The Crimean issue: information operations
Oleh Pokalchuk, social psychologist and member of the ISER’s Board, gave a speech at the meeting of the Open Chair on foreign policy, security and diplomacy. Here you can read it.

Dear friends, 

Unfortunately, the international law does not allow Ukrainian border guards to ask a question to visitors at the border crossing points: “What country is Crimea a part of?” I am convinced, if that was the case, a huge amount of psychological and technical problems for our border guards would disappear. The Crimean issue continues to stir opinions in the Ukrainian politics and indicates about important models of human behaviour.

The Crimean question is fundamental. It gives an opportunity for those who avoid to answer, Ukrainian businesses and the Ukrainian authorities to flirt with Russian businesses and Russian liberals. 

The situation in which we, Ukrainians, find ourselves is quite simple.

This is a war, and that is Russia-a terrorist state.

What does it mean for our current Ukrainian political situation?

One thing needs to be clearly understood. Terrorists do not have and never had any restrictions on any action in order to achieve their goals. Ideological domination, intimidation of citizens, paralyzing their will to resistance, physical threats to those who resist terrorists, etc. are among the terrorists’ major goals.

It is obvious that Ukrainian officials, dealing with the issue, should follow the regulations and directives of the state organizations they belong to. However, it does not mean that they do not know about the specifics of terrorist modus operandi, that the terrorists do not adhere to any rules or regulations.  Ukrainian officials, as well, do plan the appropriate counter-terrorism measures.

People who work in the media is the key dimension when we talk about information aggression or information operations. The task of information operations is not a change of ideology. This is a post-Soviet methodological mistake. The task of information operations is to change behaviour of people they aim to influence. Moreover, the more this change in behaviour looks casual or situational, the more effective it is. The whole political critical pathos of terrorism is aimed at fighting ideologies. It is very European in its form and shape and is very ineffective in its substance.

The information operations conducted by Russia against Ukraine in social networks destructively affect the connections between the Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian government. Psychological influences are aimed to modify the individual behaviour. The Crimea and Kherson regions are not unique places where specific people live, who, in contrast to the rest of Ukrainians, perceive the situation differently.

The entire Ukrainian-Russian conflict along the separation line is a common information environment. This is not an assumption, but the conclusions of the joint Ukrainian-Estonian Sociological Research (2016-2018).

There are different types of behavioral reactions of Ukrainian citizens to the conflict moving away from the Russian border towards the Ukrainian territory. There is a difference between the "zero", 10 km and 40 km zone, while there is no such difference along the border. Similar to the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 the population of occupied Crimea and Donbass has formed its own behavioural model.

Today, we need to consider Crimea as a catalyst for a Russia's further aggression against Ukraine. Military aggression. Information influences have been always a prerequisite for such invasions. No one left an idea of ​​the RF border from Donetsk to the Crimea and military specialists are well aware of it.

The European security policy, to my mind, is not the position that we should seriously count on in a case of a Russian intervention. The EU was created primarily as an association of consumers’ protection. Though, there are a lot of policy talks about human rights, but always economic needs of its own consumers and voters take a priority stance. The EU was first created as the "Union of Coal and Steel".

Energy consumption was and will be critical for Europeans. Therefore, it is doubtful that Europeans will be ready to sacrifice welfare of their own citizens because of Ukraine. 

In our situation there are two mistakes which we constantly make. We do not have strategic visions, which were discussed here earlier, to apply into practice.  Strategic things do not count on a direct tactical implementation.  

We constantly react to the Russian information irritations. Any informational attack has a plan B.  It means that the reactions of both the Ukrainian society and Ukrainian state apparatus have been already programmed by the opponent.

An information attack always reflects certain physical dimensions of the situation. In our case, these are economic actions which were already adequately addressed here.

Information attacks do not only intensify current negative socio-economic phenomena but also work with their consequences. An informational attack on the Crimean Tatar people will remain as a major Russian goal, since both Chechen wars have shown Russia that it is necessary to seek collaborators within the indigenous communities which oppose aggression ideologically, ethnically or religiously. 

Another target is national minorities. I would put an Armenian community, as a likely target, in the second place, taking into consideration their links with local businesses. Conflicts between these two ethnic communities have been created artificially. 

The good news is that with such a high level of sabotage that exists in Crimea, an intensity of physical terrorist risks is falling. It is important to mention here five targets of information attacks. Those are values, motivations, aspirations, communications and opportunities. A gap between the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian civil society, in particular, is sometimes quite significant.  The divergences in this domain create opportunities for the enemy's further hostile efforts.

It is important to define the major vulnerability indicators of terrorist risks and social risks in general. Such risks include economic, cultural, military, security, infrastructure and other spheres. There are several official Ukrainian institutions and non-state sector organizations which are engaged in such assessments. 

The anti-terrorist SBU Center, the Army, intelligence, counterintelligence, and state-owned organizations often operate with macro-source indicators. The contemporary information world and sophisticated nature of terrorist attacks require a serious in-depth analysis of information operations which is very specific. For the sake of time, I will not describe it in detail. The second component of a terrorist risk prevention efforts, according to our joint Ukrainian-Estonian study, includes the cells of information resistance: Security Incubators.

There are not so many people who are capable to manage qualified counter-information operation actions.  Such people need to be retrained and taught in a way which corresponds to the new security challenges. As a recommendation to the authorities, it is worth to mention, that probably it is important to send a pool of journalists to the South of Ukraine, however, they do not always have to go in the same pool with the President or the Prime Minister. If the visits are planned to key places on the Eastern Front, but not to Kherson, for instance, then the whole idea of such visits is nonsense.

While the Kyiv-centric point of view brings out “ready-to-fight” amateurs, the true professionals struggle to deal with serious practical challenges by themselves.


Thank you.