On the night of June 6, dozens of settlements in southern Ukraine were submerged, thousands of people were evacuated, and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was at the epicenter of the danger. The destruction of the power plant is a large-scale disaster, the realization of the criminal intent of Russian terrorists, and the consequences will have to be eliminated for years...
And what about the civilized world? What is its reaction?
The reaction, to put it mildly, was insufficient, sluggish and indecisive. Of course, the West was very concerned and worried, but in fact, the vast majority of statements and reports were reduced to the phrase "not everything is so clear." The foreign media essentially equated Russia and Ukraine, the aggressor and the victim, the subject and the object of genocide.
But the media are not the only ones... Well-known environmental organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the International Green Cross, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and others have generally taken the grotesque pose of the three monkeys: "see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing". The well-known Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg was also silent for three days. Only on the evening of June 8, she tweeted her condolences to the Ukrainian people over the "ecocide that Russian aggressors committed by blowing up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant."
Finally, it was also very disappointing that no country in the world sent rescuers to Ukraine after the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant explosion, while Ukrainian rescuers helped other countries even during the war.
Why did it happen the way it did? "Ukrinform" discussed this topic with Dmytro Zolotukhin, an expert on information warfare and competitive intelligence, executive director of the NGO "Institute of Post-Information Society."
- Mr. Zolotukhin, what can you say about the first reaction of the world media to the Russians' blowing up of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant and their "not everything is so clear" position? Why did it take them three days to realize what had happened and who was really to blame? Is this about Western standards of journalism?
- In 2014, Western journalists did not believe for two months that Russian military equipment was entering the territory of sovereign Ukraine, despite the fact that Ukrainian official bodies provided tonnes of material. Until two journalists made a couple of tweets on their Twitter accounts, and then the whole world started talking - "oh, really, what are Russian APCs doing there?"
It was even worse with the downing of MH17. Then with the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury, Britain...
The situation is not new. Yes, we have been saying for seven years that the journalistic standards declared by the Western media not only do not correspond to the modern world, but have become evil themselves. Unfortunately, our voice is still not heard, because the problems of the "natives" do not concern the "sheriffs" of Western popular media.
- And how do you explain the media reaction, or rather the lack thereof, from leading international environmental organizations? Surely they had to say something? And the UN - why such a weak and delayed reaction?
- And why do they owe Ukraine anything? Russia could drop a "nuclear bomb" on them. How can Ukraine harm them? More and more evidence is coming in that shows that in the world of real politics, you will be listened to only if you can hurt someone, if you are not taken into account. Unfortunately, we realized this too late.
- Would impartial and regular monitoring of the world's media have helped here: to somehow identify hostile information companies and take countermeasures in time?
- The magic word "monitoring" has been defamed several times over the past 10 years. It is now used to justify millions of dollars spent by Western donor funds and the work of dozens of Ukrainian government departments. I don't see the logic in "taking measures" after the international media has formed a narrative that "everything is not so clear" and spending money on it.
Monitoring by itself does not give anything. I say this as someone who has been working in this industry for almost 20 years. Only proactive systemic strategic communication, which requires clear goals and a vertically integrated management system, is needed.
- Can you be a little more specific about the "proactive strategic communication system"? For example, in the same context: the world has been informed that the Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch Kirill handed over at least 11 Ukrainian prisoners of war of Hungarian origin to Hungary. According to the intelligence services, in this way Russia wants to create a provocation: to convene a press conference with the prisoners, where they should criticize Ukraine and thank the ROC, which allegedly helped to transfer them to the Hungarian side. What should we do here?
- We should act like the British do. The British model of communications management implies that an army of communicators is managed from one center and forms the relevant procedures and deploys government functions - from accreditation of journalists in the regions to work with various internal and external audiences.
Regarding the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church and Hungary, it is absolutely clear that this is not a communication problem, as it is a special information operation carried out by the Russian special services. Therefore, the planning and implementation of our actions on this issue should include close cooperation between civilian communicators, diplomats, and security and defense sector officials, including those from intelligence agencies. According to NATO procedures, where we are so eager to join, PSYOPS (or special information operations) is considered an integral part of the state's strategic communications system.
Moreover, the issue of countering foreign information operations should not be discussed in public interviews... Perhaps General Budanov will again be mysteriously silent on camera, and everything will magically improve.
- American anchor Tucker Carlson, who was fired from Fox News in April 2023 for spreading conspiracy theories and slander, launched his own show on Twitter, Tucker on Twitter. In the first episode, he claimed that Ukraine was to blame for the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant explosion, criticized the American media and politicians who support Ukraine, expressed sympathy for Putin, and ridiculed Volodymyr Zelensky. This video has garnered tens of millions of views. In your opinion, can Carlson and his ilk be stopped somehow by Ukraine, in particular in the legal sphere? Have there been any such cases in history?
- Ukraine cannot "stop" anything, anywhere, in any way. Well, except to send a warrant officer "shark" into the pool where Tucker Carlson swims. We can do nothing about Tucker Carlson, Elon Musk, who retweets him, the owner of the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos, who may be financing certain media in favor of Trump, or presidential candidate Trump himself.
Ukraine needs to build relations with the US Republican Party. Whether we like it or not, there are and will be millions of stupid people in the country on which our future depends, the United States, who will continue to believe that Ukraine is to blame for the outbreak of war. And we need to build systems to communicate with their political representatives.
- I'm sorry, but sending a "shark" into the pool where Tucker Carlson swims is actually a pretty good idea... Can't we do something about it? After all, don't we have an impact when our president or minister gives an interview to the American media and the Ukrainian ambassador is not there? Finally, do we have to take into account and reassure the domestic Ukrainian audience? And the European audience?
- With all due respect, these questions remind me of an old Soviet joke: "What will you do in the epicenter of a nuclear explosion?" The total audience of Carlson, his partner Elon Musk, and those who support the Trumpist view of reality is tens of millions of people who will vote in the upcoming American elections. Therefore, the only way out of the situation, which is currently a priority for me, is to convince Western political elites that the defeat of the Russian Federation will guarantee a better future for all people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, including the inhabitants of the Russian Federation itself.
If we manage to achieve our key goal (by the way, it would be nice to formulate it clearly), then the words of Carlson and Musk will not bother us at all...
- On Facebook, I came across the following opinion: in terms of information and propaganda, the dam blowing up completely repeats the situation with the MH17 disaster. To what extent do you agree with this?
- The similarity of these two cases was well explained by Ukrainian philosopher Oleksii Panych in his post. MH17 and the dam bombing are such terrible crimes that they should result in inevitable and swift punishment. And this means that violence must be used against their perpetrators, because the coercive apparatus is an integral part of a liberal democratic society. Western society is too afraid of the criminal and is ready to turn a blind eye to crimes, just to stay in its comfort zone.
- So, what is the conclusion of all this? What does this episode in the information war mean? How can we even assess the "score" in this war? Finally, how can the balance of power be changed, is it necessary and what is needed for this?
- There is no "score" in information warfare, no losses or wins. No one has ever invented "points," "goals," "seconds," "pucks," or anything else that could measure the temperature of the information space. My conclusion is based solely on my observations, which are based on 20 years of experience in the field of special operations and information influence analysis. And it is not very comforting. Over the past two weeks, dozens of analytical and journalistic materials have appeared that convince Western intellectual elites that Russia cannot be defeated because it is too big, and Putin is such an idiot that he can blow up anything... You see, he blew up a hydroelectric power plant... And he promised to blow up the ZNPP. All of this is aimed at increasing fear in Western audiences, and it's working. They are afraid.
But the modern information world has the ability to change rapidly and even turn upside down. The only way to achieve this is to stop believing in a "magical counteroffensive" and an imminent victory. Before things get better, they will get worse.
- So, specifically, with the explosion of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, the Russians were ahead of us in the information sphere? But in general, in your opinion, how does Ukraine stand in the information war against Russia today?
- The Russians were not ahead of us. In fact, an entity whose only activity is to generate chaos should not be ahead of anyone. The concept called "countering disinformation" itself says that we are constantly catching up. "Studying enemy narratives," which is so popular among Western donors of the Ukrainian communications sector, says that we are reading and researching the crap that Russian special services generate while they are generating new crap at the same time. And so we go in circles.
The meta-war, which is waged simultaneously in several cognitive dimensions-emotional, philosophical, factual, informational, civilizational, and ideological-has long gone beyond the term "information warfare." We should forget this term and throw the slogan "facts matter", which has been fetishized by Western donor infusions, into the dustbin of history.
In the meta-war, Ukraine is the undisputed protagonist. An absolute good, which in the space of meanings is constantly attacked by the Russians through their various instruments. But we have to keep different target audiences in our focus: Western, African, Indian, Chinese, Asian-Pacific, and South American.
Since the first period of the war, I have been saying that the Ukrainian war for independence is a perfect Hollywood blockbuster, with its own soundtrack, "Oi u luzi chervona kalyna...", its undisputed heroes, Volodymyr Zelensky and Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and its episodes that make the viewer cry and laugh.
But there is one problem... A blockbuster cannot last forever. That's why we need either a quick happy ending with the catharsis of the main characters or a plan for new seasons of this series (which is most likely what will happen).
So, answering this question, I will say that we definitely won the sympathy of the audience we worked with. But we still have to make incredible efforts to get the "Oscar"...
Interviewed by Myroslav Liskovych. Kyiv