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Media Manipulation and the Ukraine Crisis

What’s happening?

Russia’s state media is circulating narratives to influence Russians amidst the Ukraine crisis, according to various news sources. 

According to the Financial Times, a US state department report described Russia’s media narrative as “‘disinformation and propaganda’ intended to ‘influence western countries into believing Ukraine’s behavior could provoke a global conflict.’” 

Some emerging narratives include:

  • Positioning Ukraine as the main aggressor, forcing Russia to defend itself. 
  • Accusing Ukraine of plotting a genocide targeting ethnic Russians.
  • Normalizing expectations of war to the Russian public.
  • Minimizing or downplaying the threat of war.

Alongside Russian state television, social media, like Instagram and TikTok, is being used to reach younger Russian populations. 

For weeks, the US has threatened economic sanctions against Russia should the country invade Ukraine. The US has also made no concessions to Russian demands, which include blocking Ukraine from joining NATO.

There are now around 100,000 Russian soldiers at the Ukraine border. Tensions have continued to escalate this week as NATO moves military resources to Eastern Europe. The US has also readied 8,500 troops for European deployment.

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What’s the impact?

Like other media manipulation, these narratives can stoke divisions within societies and between countries. They also aim to encourage pro-Moscow sentiment and garner the Russian public’s support in a potential conflict with Ukraine.

If Russia invades Ukraine, this could influence the country’s strategic advantage against Ukraine and NATO members. The New York Times also cited the potential to influence other countries’ perceptions about who is responsible for the conflict—including audiences in South America and Africa.

Disinformation researcher Larissa Doroshenko also claims that current narratives may serve to distract the Russian public from other domestic issues. 

How can OSINT help?

The Kremlin has routinely leveraged information environments to back its interests. Similar narratives appeared during the 2014 annexation of Crimea—but western nations were much less equipped to detect, assess, and counter its impact. 

According to The Washington Post, “Western policymakers seem to finally recognize not only that the Kremlin instigated and continues the war in Ukraine, but that the Kremlin treats the information ecosystem as an active front in any conflict.”

Governments need to be informed about this digital front to respond effectively. Online sources provide the information necessary to stay ahead of global information environments. Online news and social media sources are central to this intelligence as the internet’s influence eclipses television around the world.

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) tools are required to help online investigators:

  • Access the data sources needed to understand current media manipulation tactics. This includes regional news networks, social media, and obscure sources like forums relevant to the target information environment.
  • Assess what narratives are emerging and where they originate.
  • Understand the reach and influence of disinformation and media manipulation across the web.
  • Accomplish these tasks efficiently.

Book some time with our team to learn more about relevant OSINT data sources for your national security intelligence efforts.