Staunton, December 26 -- In order to counter Russian propaganda, "there need to be established corresponding centers of information resistance in Ukraine which can monitor the airwaves around the clock and show how [its] falsifications are created," according to Andrey Illarionov.
Such centers, the Russian analyst says, must be able to identify the false attribution of pictures or invented reportage and show how they are combined with accurate information so that Ukrainians will be in a position to understand and thus be immune to what Moscow is doing. "There is no other way out. This must be a form of defense and information resistance" (ru.krymr.com/content/article/26762630.html).
To a great extent, the Washington-based commentator continues, Ukraine must proceed the way a doctor does when he is examining someone with an infection: “one needs a mask and a means of protecting himself. Otherwise, the infection spreads and penetrates the brain of the individual.”
Illarionov’s suggestion comes in the course of an interview in which he discussed both new American legislation calling for assistance to Ukraine – legislation that he suggests the Obama Administration will be in no hurry to implement – and Petr Pomerantsev’s argument in the New York Times that “the ideology of Russia is that truth does not exist.”
That is “an exaggeration,” Illarionov says, but Pomerantsev is “right” that the propaganda model Putin has armed himself with is “quite effective. “Its essence is that there is nothing real; it is only what appears to be the case. Thus, doubt can be cast on any fact.” And in the current media environment that is enough because it keeps people from reaching final conclusions.
He gives as example such questions as “are Russian forces participating in the war against Ukraine or was the Malaysian plane shot down by a Buk missile, or where there ‘little green men’ in Crimea.” “All that was needed” not so much to create an alternative reality as to ensure that people remained in doubt about what the truth in fact is.
Illarionov suggests that Ukrainians and the West must begin by recognizing that many of those from Moscow whom they are accustomed to call journalists are anything but. Such people are not practicing journalism; they are officers in an information war whose job it is to spread disinformation and thus doubt.
But calling them that is not enough, he suggests, and his proposal for the establishment of what he calls centers of information resistance is thus intriguing. As specialists on disinformation have long observed, disinformation to be effective is not totally false. Indeed, it may be 99 percent true, with only the one percent designed to mislead people.
That makes it extremely difficult for those who do not focus on it professionally and constantly to keep track of what is true and what is not because if someone criticizes this or that propaganda piece, defenders of that propaganda can and do always respond by pointing out how much truth there is in it and how much doubt there is about the rest.
Could centers of information resistance counter this? They could be extremely useful in the current context given the web of truth, half-truth and lies that Putin and his supporters have woven. But the problem is deeper than even Illarionov suggests, and it is a problem for which there is no immediate solution.
At a time when many in the media confuse objectivity with balance, the tragedy is that the accurate information put out by such centers would be presented by many journalists as simply another point of view in a larger debate rather than as a correction of Russian distortions and lies.