Russia’s propaganda machine is waging an all-out global offensive, and leading the fight to stop it is Ihor Solovey. In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, he told us about his work, why Russia’s propaganda works so well domestically, and what else is needed to win the information war.

What is the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security, which you lead?

The Center was established under the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy and is one of the Ukrainian Government’s mechanisms for counteracting threats and disinformation.

We coordinate closely with a number of state bodies as well as public organizations and international partners and we see the main goal of our activity in the development of sustainable state communications – as a way to counteract disinformation and to build up the resilience of Ukrainian society to Russia’s lies.

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When the full-scale invasion began, what was the largest informational threat that Ukraine faced?

The threat we faced at the outset of the war was that an information vacuum could appear, which would open the door for Russian disinformation and propaganda to begin flooding into people’s homes.

Thus, my team immediately restructured itself to meet the needs of wartime and began to provide as much verified and reliable information as possible, to prevent Russia from getting a foothold. We did this by creating a network of information channels, on different platforms, in order to deliver real-time information to both Ukrainian and foreign audiences.

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Given that Russia spreads propaganda like a firehose, are you able to analyze it?

Of course. An important area of our work is to carefully analyze Russian propaganda and disinformation. For example, we prepare daily digests as well as analytical articles on how Russian propaganda works during the war in Russia, Ukraine, and the world.

Do you have an example of a success which we may have heard of?

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Sure, do you remember the famous story of the “grandmother with the red flag”? A resident of a Ukrainian village, which Russian propaganda tried to turn into an image of “the Motherland”? Our team found her, recorded her story, and brought journalists to her. Unsurprisingly, we found that the Russians had lied about the incident and that in fact the woman had no intention of supporting Russia.

Thanks to the work of our staff, the busting of this myth was covered by the BBC and hundreds of news outlets and we were able to destroy a symbol of Russia’s war against Ukraine that had been created by Russian propaganda.

 Your Center is well prepared to fight off Russian disinformation – but not everyone is so adept. How do you prepare those working for the Ukrainian Government to combat disinformation?

In fact, training people is a very important area of our work. We significantly strengthened and developed this already during the full-scale invasion.

We teach others how to independently fight disinformation and counteract hostile information operations. As part of our School on Countering Disinformation, the Center has already held dozens of training courses for civil servants, government officials and military officers, as well as schoolchildren, students and teachers.

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Can you comment on the clandestine operations that your office carries out to promote Ukraine’s national security interests in the information space?

Well, most of our work is public. However, there are also projects that we will talk about after Ukraine has won the war.

Why has Russian state propaganda been so successful in brainwashing the Russian public?

Russian state propaganda can exist comfortably and be effective only in the absence of competitors – honest and independent media. In fact, this is why it is successful in Russia: because the competitive media environment in the country has been completely destroyed. All influential Russian media outlets are now controlled by the state (or by oligarchs affiliated with the state). Those media outlets whose editorial policies the Kremlin has been unable to control completely have been simply shut down (such as TV Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, and even Ekho Moskvy radio). In addition, unsuitable websites have been blocked, many declared “foreign agents,” and some active “opinion leaders” even jailed. And this continues to be done in accordance with the law on military censorship (the so-called "fake news law" – the obligation to spread only official information from the authorities, not to criticize the war, etc.).

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Under such monopolistic conditions, it is easy for the propagandists to impose their “only correct opinion” on the people. It is based on an artificially invented reality. That is, on the basis of fake news.

Is that why Russian propaganda has been less effective in the U.S. and EU?

Yes, the picture is quite different in the EU or the U.S. – here the Kremlin’s political analysts do not manage to impose their made-up picture of the world, as there is a full palette of independent media, experts and politicians who quickly debunk and criticize the Russian narrative. And people see an adequate picture of the world, not the perversion that Russia creates.

But why, on the other hand, has Russian disinformation gained such popularity in the developing world?

There are a couple of major reasons. First, Ukraine has historically had a weak presence in many of these countries, in terms of economics, politics, and in the information space.

Secondly, we have become hostages of the relationship between the U.S. and the countries of these regions. The Kremlin, using its advantage, managed to instill in these countries the narrative that it was not Russia that attacked Ukraine, but rather that “the U.S. is at war with Russia on the territory of Ukraine.” In reality, though, it is the Kremlin that is waging a veritable colonial war against Ukraine – exactly what the countries of Latin America and the Middle East dislike so much.

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 How can the West better help Ukraine win the information war?

We see two main directions. The first one is to finally realize that there is no media in Russia anymore – this is what I said at the beginning. All these Russian “news” sources, like TASS and Ria Novsti, and even more so the "talking heads” of the state apparatus, such as diplomats and international experts, are not journalists, but fighters of the information forces.

In military science, there is such an obligatory clause in the planning of military operations: “information support of operations.” All the above-mentioned categories are engaged in information support of military operations: propaganda and information-psychological operations (IPSO).

That is to say, the Russian state media is literally part of the war against Ukraine?

Yes, very much so. They are accomplices to war crimes, and some of the top propagandists are the very real war criminals.

The bottom line is that they cannot be trusted. So there are a couple of things that can be done: First, all channels for the penetration of Russian disinformation into the West should be banned to the maximum. Next, their “news” should not be spread in the Western information space.

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Does your Office engage in offensive information warfare?

There are some things that we will talk about only after Ukraine has won the war.

Why do you think that people in the West are so sympathetic to the story of Ukraine?

Ukraine is fighting a just, defensive war and Russia is the aggressor. The Russians are attacking, the Ukrainians defending. Everything is clear and understandable here.

No official statements from the Russian Ministry of Defense or Putin can cover up the horrors and crimes of the Russian military that foreign journalists saw for themselves in Bucha, Irpen, Borodyanka, Kharkov region, Kherson region and other liberated territories. The Russians themselves destroyed with their own hands the myth of a “liberation war,” which at the beginning they tried to impose on public opinion.

Similarly, the rest of the myths that were invented by the Russian propaganda have crumbled. Why? Because truth is more durable than an artificial, invented reality. Fakes cannot live long, they must be constantly “fed” – and as soon as this stops, everything collapses. So the truth will always win.

What is the Stratcom Forum?

Every year our Center holds the Kyiv Stratcom Forum, the first forum on strategic communications in Ukraine. Despite the challenges and obstacles of a full-scale invasion, we are organizing a large-scale international event this year as well. Its aim is to bring together communication specialists from Ukraine, Europe and America. And to discuss what Ukraine is doing on the information front in the war with Russia, to share successful and interesting Ukrainian communication cases, to sum up the experience of the past year of war and share it with Western partners, to attract them to engage in a joint confrontation with Russian information weapons and substantiate the necessity to support the Ukrainian media sector.

Do you fear that “Ukraine fatigue” will dampen international support for Ukraine?

The most important thing is to keep Western societies from getting “war tired” while we ourselves are fighting for our lives and freedom to the last bullet.

That is why it is so important for everyone who disseminates information about Ukraine, in the media or social media, to report about the progress of the war using accurate, non-Russian, resources.

You formerly lived in Moscow while writing for the Ukrainian press. What did you do when you got back to Kyiv?

After returning to Kyiv, I covered the events of the Revolution of Dignity (2014) from the first to the last day; Russia's occupation of Crimea and the attack on Donbass; then covered the government (military bloc and international politics).

I also collaborated with European fact-checking organizations and am co-author of the manual "Priborkati Gidru: How to Counter the Kremlin's Information Aggression?"

How will the war end?

With Ukraine’s absolute victory.

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