HOISTED WITH THEIR OWN PETARD: UKRAINE'S INFLUENCE OPERATIONS AGAINST EUROPE. Part 1
It has happened on my career that I had to probe, directly or indirectly, a specific area, which is normally called “strategic communications” abroad. It sounds up-to-date and, you may agree or not, completely harmless. But if this verbal camouflage is removed, one can see nothing else but the good old propaganda in the broadest sense of the word. It accompanies secret pure interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
You should avoid being surprised at what propaganda all about. It is obviously not supposed to be “the invention and prerogative of the Kremlin”, as all major countries are engaged in this activity, so is even Ukraine. Still many different euphemisms have been used to mask their effect on minds and subconscious of the target audience.
Ukraine today is in many aspects a country of paradoxes. It especially appears when it comes to history, corruption, and relations with other countries. Let's take a look at how Ukrainians view Vladimir Lenin’s political life. The leader of the Global proletariat allowed Ukraine to annex in 1918-1924 the lands of present-day Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Odessa and other regions that had never belonged to it. Apparently the Ukrainian people should thank him. But “true patriots” demolished his monuments all over the country in a bloody huff. They also say that the USSR occupied Ukraine forgetting that the men from the Ukrainian SSR, N.Khrushchev and L.Brezhnev are meant here, had ruled the Union for almost 30 years. So, the question of who occupied whom is up to debate.
The Ukrainian authorities regularly take money from EU on parole to combat, for example, corruption. The funds are being normally stolen. They create new anti-corruption structures – SAPO, NABU, SBI, and etc. – that eventually turn into paper shops where you can open or close any case for a certain amount of money. So even the strictest western pragmatists have been unable to do anything about it for years. They don't want to give money anymore, because it's useless. But they can't leave Ukraine they have hooked on credits, or it will be even worse.
There is yet another paradox, which I will discuss in detail. It concerns the sphere of propaganda. Since 2014, Western countries have started to invest in the Ukrainian establishments to deal with strategic communications, information operations, and other propaganda related activities. A large role was assigned to the training of Ukrainian specialists by foreign instructors. The main targeted audience was the Russian and Ukrainian population. But the Ukrainians, as always, outsmarted everyone and began to actively practice information and psychological operations against the population, the leadership, and even the special services of Western countries. Sometimes this was done openly, and sometimes in secret, away from their bosses. The West actually paid for propaganda against itself. But first things first.
DESIGNED IN USA ASSEMBLED IN UKRAINE
Foreign instructors and advisors
After the February 2014 coup, the next country’s leadership was well aware that it would be difficult to stay in power without foreign support, because concern for the people and their welfare was clearly not on Kiev’s list. Therefore, Ukrainian politicians began to position the country as a victim of Russian “hybrid aggression” seeking comprehensive assistance from the West. This gave results, and Ukraine was flooded with numerous advisers and experts from Europe and the United States, especially in the defense and information spheres.
The military authorities and special services started to work under the tight control of their Western, primarily American, counterparts. The process of adopting the guidance materials to NATO standards began, and the concept of StratCom very quickly came into use in Ukraine. So, in September 2015, this term appeared in the country’s new military doctrine. It determined that StratCom is a coordinated and appropriate use of the state's communication capabilities – public diplomacy, communications, psychological and information operations aimed at promoting the goals of the state. In the Doctrine, Russia was openly called the main military adversary of Ukraine.
At the same time, the roadmap for partnership in strategic communications between the National security and defense council of Ukraine and the International secretariat of NATO was signed. As part of this agreement, foreign instructors in information and psychological operations began to conduct training courses for Ukrainian colleagues.
I had the opportunity to study under the guidance of information warfare specialists from the Lithuanian special operations forces at the Zhytomyr Military Institute.
Representatives from the former Soviet Republic actively “trained” officers of the information and psychological operations units (PSYOP), the Special Operations Forces (SOF) of the Armed Forces and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) to influence hearts and minds.
I want to note that in addition to training of Ukrainian “neophytes” the Baltic “hot shots” did not forget about the mundane pleasures and openly approached women that were among the audience. Some will recognize Tatiana Romanova from the 74th PSYOP Center (Unit A-1277, Lvov) and Anastasia Bagriychuk from the 16th Center (Unit A-1182, Zhytomyr). I can't say for sure about Romanova, but garrulous instructor Klaus quickly managed to find approaches to Nastya Bagriychuk, apparently with the help of his professional skills of suggestion and persuasion.
Anastasia Bagriychuk in January, 2014
And there were many similar training sessions. For example, new courses are currently being prepared under the name “Ukraine Peer-to-Peer. Disinformation challenge”. The training will be held from September to December, 2020, at the Kharkov National University. A special feature of this program will be the implementation of the “peer-to-peer” principle, which means that the teachers will be students who have already completed the course. About 60 military personnel from PSYOP Centers who completed training in the United States will share their experience on the theoretical foundations of information warfare and organization of the so called “color revolutions”.
The program is organized by the American consulting agency EdVenture Partners. The most interesting thing is that this company actively cooperates with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. So the issue of suspending fake accounts by Facebook, which Ukrainian propagandists have always complained about, is likely to be resolved in the near future. So, fake news, which Donald Trump often talks about, is a flexible concept. Some people are banned and face public critique, and someone does not. After all, the fight against the “Russian aggression” will write everything off.
The Agency for International Development (USAID), a part of the U.S. State Department which was repeatedly tainted in funding “color revolutions”, will sponsor this educational program.
It's obvious that the western countries wouldn't finance information operations against themselves. Resources were allocated against Russian propaganda and misinformation. But Ukraine gets this money for other purposes. A good example is fight against corruption.
Meanwhile western countries allocate a lot of money for strategic communication systems. The United States is a leader of investments in this sphere. The USA allocated 275 million dollars in fight against Russian propaganda in 2019. It’s a really huge sum. The largest part of this sum was allocated for Ukraine to develop the “cybersecurity of critical infrastructure and electronic systems” and for the “fight against Russian propaganda and disinformation.”
There are tons of information in the Internet about anti-Russian projects sponsored by different funds, non-profit organisations and governmental structures. Here are some of them: Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ukraine; The Media Development Fund by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kiev; Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; Swedish International Liberal Centre; The International Renaissance Foundation, which was founded by George Soros and other foreign funds.
For example, Embassy of Germany in Ukraine together with Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine allocated half million dollars to television channel “Hromadske telebachennya” in 2015, which was the main media at “Maydan” in 2014.
“StopFake” project was supported by the International Renaissance Foundation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Kiev and the Sigrid Rausing Trust.
Other active western media resources in Ukraine are “Internews Ukraine” and “Detector Media”. These media outlets got support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Atlantic Council, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Embassy of Sweden.
The Department of State allocated 10 million dollars to Ukraine for “cybersecurity” development in 2017. Later in 2020 Ukraine got more than 8 million dollars for the same purposes.
The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) allocated 1 million dollars for promoting Internet freedom in Ukraine in 2019. “The program should build the knowledge and advocacy capacity of these groups in order to support cross-sector engagement on domestic Internet freedom issues and to combat regional and domestic threats to freedom of expression online,” DRL website said.
In March 2020 Ukraine got 38 million dollars grant from the United States for the “Ukraine National Identity Through Youth (UNITY) Activity.” According to the documents, five year-long cooperation between Ukrainian activists and USAID is intended to foster the Internet activity among youth, and collaboration with local leaders, buisinessmen and influencers in the Russian web.
The Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine (MIPU) was the executive body responsible for the implementation of the StratCom concept until August 29, 2019.
After the abolition of the Department, its functions have passed to the newly established Ministry of culture, youth and sports of Ukraine. And it should be noted that after Zelensky came to power, the information policy in the country has not changed that much. A striking example is the preparation of the so-called “law on misinformation”, developed on the basis of The presidential Decree “On urgent measures to implement reforms and strengthen the state” No. 837/2019 of November 08, 2019. In this Decree, the ministry was asked to “create a provision regarding the requirements and standards of news, mechanisms for the dissemination of false distorted information, to ban Russian representatives to own or finance media in Ukraine, as well as to provide for increased liability for violations of legislation on information.” So, censorship continues to gain momentum.
Among other organizations also engaged in information influence abroad are: the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Main Directorate of Intelligence, the PSYOP Centers of Special Operation Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Additionally, in April 2020, the Department of Strategic Communications was created in Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which became the successor of the Department of Communications and the Press. This branch is headed by Lieutenant Colonel Svetlana Pavlovskaya, who is also the Minister's press secretary. According to governing documents, this military unit is a component of the national system of strategic communications which is intended to inform the public and the media, including foreign resources, about the activities of the MoD, the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the State Special Transport Service, to inform Armed Forces' personnel, to conduct information campaigns, etc. In a word, for propaganda aimed on both internal and external audiences.
Ministry of Information Policy
Ministry of Information Policy was also known as MinStets according to last name of the minister Yury Stets. This ministry was set up by a man who did not hide his devotion to neonazi ideology. Besides him I can name another two odious representatives in the administration of ministry. They are: Dmitry Zolotuhin, an ex-employee of the SBU, and Amine Dzhaparova, the journalist of the American propagandistic recourses “Radio Free Europe/Radio of Liberty” and “The Crimea. Reality”, who graduated from various courses, held by the U.S. Department of State. Technically this is all you need to know about this ministry in order to understand which area it was engaged in. However I will tell some more details about an external direction of its work.
One of the main goals of the Ministry of Information Policy was the building of the country’s positive image in the international field, first of all in the western countries. These tasks were framed in a number of state papers including the “Government medium-term priority action plan-2020” and the “Government activity plan-2017”.
Within the conception, the main efforts aimed on usage of three tools of strategic communication: public or people’s diplomacy, Ukraine diaspora abroad and “agents of influence”. To present day Ukrainian authority consider these “soft power” channels as the most effective way of influence on international public opinion which can help to build a positive image of country abroad.
It must be stressed that in terms of public diplomacy the ministry offered different ideas. One of them was to organize a sort of brand-tours, when buses with special logos on them (UkraineNOW) are sent to European countries. Аccording to the minister this type of advertising was supposed to attract European’s attention to modern image of Ukraine.
Another method offered to the “people’s diplomats” is a wide usage of the Ukrainian national symbols. If some of you were on vacation in Turkey, Egypt or in the European countries for the last five years you could notice the blatantly aggressive manner of Ukrainian tourists to demonstrate their national flag. They hang it on hotel balconies, beach chairs, use it as a cape on their shoulders while walking in the street. At first sight it looks like eccentric behavior of Ukraine tourists. But in fact it’s one of Kiev’s versions of StratCom which can help to promote Ukraine interests in the frame of “My small part” program. This initiative exhorts tourists who visit different countries to take photos with the Ukrainian flag and spread them in the social networks.Another StratCom program is called “Grassroots”. Its goal is to search for the Ukrainian roots in biography of well-known persons who might be used further as “agents of influence” to spread the Ukrainian information messages.
Scientists, writers, actors, military leaders and many others famous historical figures would be greatly astonished if they knew they were the Ukrainians by origin. But they would be more amazed at the aspiration of the new Ukrainian government to use “newly proselytized Ukrainians” in their own interests. Government in Kiev wants to show that Sergei Korolev, Igor Sikorsky, Feodor Dostoyevsky, Pyotr Tchaikovsky and even Queen of France Anna Yaroslavovna were outstanding representatives of the Ukrainian nation. Hereafter their names are used for the propaganda of modern ideas, profitable for the Ukrainian government.
One interesting fact about the University in Zhytomyr where I was trained on courses of specialists for information operations held by instructors from Lithuania is this University named after Sergei Korolev.
Another direction of the Ukrainian StratCom as mentioned above is to deal with the Ukrainian diaspora across the globe and using its capabilities to promote the interests of the Ukrainian government.
Representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in particular the Ukrainians World Congress lends active support both to Ukrainian and world structures in fight against “Russian propaganda” attracting large number of their followers.
The activity of the Ukrainian diaspora in Russia is not as noticeable as for example in Canada. Nevertheless its representatives conduct active informational policy which is recommended by the Ukrainian government agencies. Here is one simple example which confirms this. In order to enter the Facebook group called “The Ukrainians of Russia” you need to answer two questions: “Who controls The Crimea?” and “What’s going on in the East of Ukraine?” If the answers weren’t “Ukraine” on first question and “Russian aggression” on the second, access to the group won't be authorized.
“I'll cut off my nose to spite my face” and other “useful idiots”
One of the first actions organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine after the dethronement of Yanukovich took place in Czech Republic. In March 2014 the owner of the Brioni Boutique Hotel situated in Czech Ostrava Tomas Krzmarzh refused to house Russian athletes who made a reservation. And then he completely refused to house any Russian citizens. He even put up a notice about it at the hotel’s entry.
Later under pressure of regulatory authorities Krzmarzh came to some terms. But he required written declaration from the Russians who was checking in the hotel where they were to express disagreement with the Russian reunion of Crimea. The so-called “patriotic merchant” was sanctioned by regulatory authorities because of people’s discrimination.
However, after a few years of trial Constitutional court of the Czech Republic removed all complaint against Krzmarzh.
But according to his own statement Tomas Krzmarzh has Ukrainian roots. In an effort to keep connection with native land he took part in official and unofficial meetings which were conducted by the Ukrainian Embassy in the Czech Republic. Besides he had contacts with diplomats who might be security officials of the Ukrainian intelligence under diplomatic cover.
I am sure that this act of the hotel’s owner wasn’t spontaneous. The idea was born in the Ukrainian Embassy which recieved orders from the new Ukrainian government in Kiev late in February and early in March. The main and urgent task was to get support among the international community of the coup d'etat in Ukraine and non-admission of the Crimea separation. This plan was executed in the Czech Republic with the help of a local resident who had been lobbed by diplomats for some time and had been greedy for compliments and gifts.
Actions of this gentleman were widely covered in the Ukrainian mass media at lightning speed. Journalists urged other owners of hotels to act like Tomas. Some of them even offered to give him a title of the Ukrainian Hero. And, certainly, they found some threats to the Czech “patriot of Ukraine” from “evil Russians” and “the KGB/FSB agents”. What can I say? One guideline for all occasions.
Referendum on the association of Ukraine and the EU in the Netherlands
The arrangements, Kiev held to affect the results of the Dutch referendum on the “Ukraine-EU” agreement of association, are a good example of using strategic communication methods against western countries.
They exerted integrated influence on the Dutchmen using two methods (as the Ukrainian Ministry of Information Policy states): governmental communications and public diplomacy. The Ukrainian government was represented by foreign minister Pavel Klimkin who was supposed to take part in the bike ride and try to persuade local citizens to support the agreement. Public diplomacy consisted of numerous Ukrainian activists and Klichko brothers, the worldwide known boxers. They were trying to make locals to give a hand to Ukraine in its strive to join the EU.
As the StratCom manuals require, the special services of Ukraine supported ‘peoples diplomats’ at the time of the referendum. As far as I know, the Ukrainian intelligence was to engage its agents in the Netherlands to disrupt the voting in case of negative tendency predominance for Kiev. Some groups of journalists were also supposed to create a negative reputation of the referendum and reduce the voting turnout. According to the local law the government can ignore results of the referendum if less than 30 percent of the population takes part in it.
What's in the end? In spite of using lots of serious financial, human and organization resources, as StratCom requires, Ukraine could not bring its aims to life. People of the Netherlands voted against the “Ukraine-EU” agreement of association.
To create the visibility of a good way out from the failure of the Dutch campaign, Pavel Klimkin stated that results of the referendum would not change the decision of Ukraine to join the European Union. And Kiev decided to strengthen its complex of StratCom operations against Europe.
How to proclaim DPR/LPR the terrorist organizations
Continuing to upscale efforts on the informational front of the “European theatre of operations” official Kiev actively engaged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with special services. That sort of actions is named special information operations. This is necessary to hide aims and technique that are used for premeditated disinformation of foreign audience.
As an example that confirms the technology of the Ukrainian StratCom I’ll show you a document and will give my comments.
Ukrainian foreign minister Klimkin offered president Poroshenko to focus propaganda efforts of all possible structures on presenting the DPR and LPR as terrorist organizations among the foreign publicity. He recommended prosecuting as many people as possible for violating the law under the articles connected with the terrorism. As the Ukrainian foreign minister considered, it would be easier to persuade the foreigners who were too censorious to the credibility of documents, if the Ukrainian courts rendered guilty verdicts on criminal cases like that.
The governments of the EU countries were the target audience in this operation. Artificially created arguments and press events had to persuade them.
Later Boris Lozhkin, the head of the presidential administration, gave instructions to SBU chief Valentin Nalivaichenko to “take appropriate measures that would provide the necessary legal reasoning of the inclusion” of the DPR and the LPR into the list of terrorist organizations of the EU.
Here is the deal. Law enforcement bodies are ordered to provide maximum of possible quantity of verdicts on criminal cases connected with terrorism. In such a manner it was offered to label hundred thousands Ukrainian citizens as the supporters of “terrorist” organisations. And the repressive apparatus has started to work. Lots of evidence was falsified to blame people of terrorism. It is hard to construct more artful and mean psychological operation aimed at citizens of your own country. These cases often fell into pieces in court.
But the European Union still has not included the DPR and the LPR into the list of terrorist organizations, so Ukraine could not gather enough evidence to blame its citizens in terrorism.
Misinformation of the OSCE on the situation in the combat zone
Here is another example demonstrating the technologies of the Ukrainian StratCom.
The internal document shows that foreign minister applied to the governmental institutions of Ukraine with a request to find counterarguments against charges which the OSCE mission prepared as a result of its work in the combat area. Enumerating real facts in their letter, the Ukrainian diplomats quoted the word “charges” on purpose and demonstrated their slighting to the position of the OSCE.
Meanwhile, international supporters recorded serious violations from the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The document describes the facts of combat operations in the inhabited localities, ceasefire violations, disposition of the heavy artillery inside the inhabited localities.
It is directly stated that the prepared “excuses” would be used by Ukraine to deny any charges against it.
Should we be surprised then, that foreign ministers of the OSCE member-countries could not take a common statement on the results of the work of the mission in Ukraine? This time Kiev managed to neutralize negative assessment of its military activities in Donbass region and to protrude a comfort opinion to western countries.
The second part of the investigation will expose secret activities of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the Main Directory of Intelligence (GUR), and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) that affected people and the governments of western countries, particularly the Czech Republic and Poland.
Pyotr Poroshenko is a Ukrainian oligarch, the President of Ukraine in 2014-2019.
Boris Lozhkin is a Ukrainian businessman and politician, head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine (June 2014-August 2016).
Valentin Nalivaychenko is a former Chairman of the security Service of Ukraine (in 2006-2010 and in 2014-2015).
Pavel Klimkin is a former Minister of foreign Affairs of Ukraine (in 2014-2019).
Andrey Plahotniuk is a Director of the Department of countering threats from the Russian Federation of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Yuriy Stets is a former Minister of information policy of Ukraine (in 2014-2019).
Dmitri Zolotukhin is a former Deputy Minister of Information Policy (in 2017-2019), former employee of the SBU.
Amine Dzhaparova is a former first Deputy Minister of information policy (in 2016-2019), a graduate of various leadership courses of the US state Department, a journalist of the American propaganda resources "Radio Liberty" and "Crimea.Realities".
Anastasia Bagriychuk is 16th PSYOP center officer, Unit A-1182, Zhytomir
Tatyana Romanova is 74th PSYOP officer, Unit A-1277, Lvov
The National Security and Defense Council (SNBO) is a coordinating body under the President of Ukraine on national security and defense issues.The Ministry of foreign Affairs (MFA) is a state executive authority of Ukraine that implements state policy in the field of foreign relations of Ukraine with other states, as well as with international organizations.
The Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine (MIPU) is a state executive authority in the area of ensuring information sovereignty of Ukraine and controlling the dissemination of socially important information in Ukraine and abroad.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) is a special purpose law enforcement agency intended to ensure the country's state security. Subordinates to the President of Ukraine.
The foreign intelligence service of Ukraine (SVR) is a state authority of Ukraine that carries out intelligence in the political, economic, military-technical, scientific-technical, information and environmental areas.
The Department of strategic communications is a division of the Ministry of defense of Ukraine designed to counter aggressive information influences and implement the unified information policy of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The Main Intelligence Directorate is a military intelligence agency of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.
Psychological operations centers (PSYOP) – military units of the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, responsible for conducting information wars.