Ukraine has surprised many with its resilience against the horrors Russia has inflicted on its people and exceeding expectations in its ability to withstand the “second army of the world. Its people and its government have shown the world what true determination looks like when a nation has to fight for its very survival

The armed forces of Ukraine have, of course, suffered ups and downs, advances and losses, successes and failures. We should remember that this has been a war of attrition against an enemy whose strengths, on paper at least, exceeds Kyiv’s and must not underestimate the resources and time needed to prevail on the twenty first century battlefield.

Alongside the conduct of warfare on the front lines, Ukraine has also been fighting against an enemy who uses a whole panoply of propaganda, information and communication weapons. Disinformation can be as devastating a weapon guns and tanks, capable of adapting, changing its shape, and multiplying with nefarious speed.

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2024 will be a year in which disinformation will have an even greater impact than it had so far. This year sees elections in countries and entities that are key international supporters for Ukraine; be it in military, financial, or diplomatic areas.

Recent history has shown us how disinformation campaigns can alter public opinion and be used to distort electoral results. Russia has done it before, and will certainly continue to take every opportunity to try to manipulate elections in its favor. They are aided in this by rapid developments in emerging technologies that can create and disseminate low cost, automated content across many platforms and even in different languages.

Ukrainians Capture Russia’s Multi-Million Dollar T-90 Tank in Eastern Sector
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Ukrainians Capture Russia’s Multi-Million Dollar T-90 Tank in Eastern Sector

The Russian T-90 crew abandoned the tank, “a hi-tech weapon system based on a century-long experience” which Putin considers the Kremlin’s most advanced, and then fled the battlefield.

How can this be combatted? I suggest the answer lies in strategic, actionable preparation, prediction and identification of vulnerable areas to counter disinformation.

Ukraine must work to stay ahead of the curve in this regard. To successfully counter disinformation in a wartime environment, it is crucial to be able to identify and respond rapidly to threats to exploitable areas and to take pre-emptive measures that can prevent undesirable situations developing.

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This can be done through “scenario planning” - positing multiple plausible future scenarios to enable Ukrainian authorities to anticipate potential disinformation narratives as well as probable target populations and develop pro-active response strategies to combat it in advance.

In addition to scenario-building, monitoring and early warning activities are essential for countering disinformation. The use of predictive analytics can enhance Ukraine's ability to discern patterns and trends in disinformation campaigns. Analyzing data from social media platforms, news outlets, and other sources can provide valuable insights into emerging narratives, enabling preemptive actions to counter disinformation before it gains traction.

These activities are only the tip of the iceberg, with rigorous analysis needed to discern societal patterns and account for how disinformation works, the techniques used, and the actors involved. Some particular aspects need special consideration.

Firstly, the fast-developing pace of emerging technologies presents a unique challenge. Deepfakes, artificial intelligence-generated content, and other advanced disinformation techniques make disinformation campaigns more efficient. Messages become more credible and persuasive while the false or manipulative aspect of them is less discoverable.

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The fight against disinformation is a never-ending game of “cat-and-mouse” - as solutions against a known technique are implemented, novel methods appear. This is why actionable foresight is needed – if you can predict where the mouse will go next you can install mouse traps. This needs the ability to develop and deploy advanced detection tools and foster strategic cooperation with experts, technology companies, and international partners.

Secondly, we must look beyond national or regional disinformation campaigns to have a clear picture of the malign actors’ intentions and methods. States tend to only concentrate their efforts against disinformation at a national level, in their own language or a couple of popular ones, such as English. This creates blind spots, with a lack of monitoring and understanding of the narratives being propagated in other countries or regions.

Russia has recently shown particularly interest in dominating the communication sphere in the Global South, turning states against Ukraine and the West, it is very important to know their moves to counter them.  

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Thirdly we must avoid a tendency to focus on only one actor as this can also miss important insight into how disinformation is being applied. In recent times, we have seen an increased collaboration between various state and non-state actors to launch coordinated disinformation campaigns. It is necessary to disentangle these efforts and understand the mechanisms beyond mere appearances.

Fourthly, foresight needs to be actionable. In other words, there must be clear links to what can be done with the information and the analysis we gain. One aspect that deserves to be emphasized is that mastering strategic communication is essential to managing disinformation. Even if your approach employs pre-emptive as well as reactive measures, being able to shift the narrative, present your vision instead of the opponent’s agenda, and utilize narratives to convey your frames should not be overlooked. 

Looking ahead to 2024, the importance of foresight cannot be overstated. This is true not only on the political front but also for Ukrainian business as it tries to secure its activity and redesign its supply chains. In this context, Romania has emerged as an attractive option, to supplement the well-established logistics Black Sea routes, and not only facilitate efficient transportation but also offer a gateway to European markets.

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The synergy between Ukrainian companies seeking resilience and efficiency and Romania’s strategic advantages creates a promising avenue for economic growth and stability. This is also underpinned by the decision of the governments of Ukraine and Romania to raise the existing bilateral relationship to the level of Strategic Partnership.

The road ahead may be challenging, but with actionable foresight, Ukraine can win the future on and off the front line.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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