Commentary: Ukraine winning the propaganda war will be an advantage on the battlefield

Ukrainian pluck and the country’s surprising success on the battlefield have led the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, to recommend that Ukraine refuse to agree to peace talks with Russia unless it is in a strong position. This might mean pushing back the Russians to where they were before the invasion.

HUGE ADVANTAGE FOR UKRAINE

Projecting Ukraine’s “underdog” status is important in tugging on Western heartstrings. The West, but particularly NATO, probably knows that Ukraine is operating this line of persuasion – but, given the hardship the country is going through, will respond positively to most of Zelenskyy’s requests (except enforcing a “no-fly” zone). 

From the West’s perspective, ridding itself of Putin’s malign influence in diplomatic, informational, military and economic terms would be a useful goal.

Both Ukraine and Russia are engaging in information operations and propaganda, but with different approaches. The Kremlin focuses on deception operations, censorship and false narratives – especially that of “de-Nazification”. 

Ukraine is focused on diplomacy with the West and NATO, shoring up civilian morale and encouraging them to take up arms, highlighting Russian atrocities and Ukrainian combat wins, and maintaining operational security (by denying Russia targeting information).

Ukraine has moral authority because it is using information operations to fight a war of necessity, an existential battle of survival. The Kremlin, meanwhile, is trying to fulfil an ambition to rebuild the Soviet empire that had been shattered after the Cold War. 

In what looks increasingly likely to be a war of attrition, winning the information war will provide a big advantage on the battlefield – which is good news for Zelenskyy.

Paul Baines is a Professor of Political Marketing and the Deputy Dean of Strategic Projects at the University of Leicester. This commentary first appeared in The Conversation.