Russia justified the war of aggression against Ukraine by saying that Ukraine is being ruled by Nazis and planning genocide in the Donbass republics. Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at Kings College London, observes: “Putin has described what is at stake for Russia in fantastic terms that have little to do with the actual situation. He wants to denazify a country with a Jewish president and prime minister and protect the people of Donbass from a “genocide” that was a complete fabrication. So Zelensky can easily promise not to be a Nazi and not to commit genocide.”
In contrast, Ukraine tries to paint a halfway truthful picture of the conflict: “Ukrainians have dominated the information space. They have made factual reports which, while exaggerating Russian losses, also report their own setbacks. More importantly, the international networks are reporting benevolently from besieged cities and border posts overflowing with desperate refugees,” continued Professor Freedman.
But quite apart from truth and lies, there are also technological factors that drive information warfare. China has built a strong firewall to shield its own citizens from Western information. According to the OpenNet Initiative, China has the best content filtering system in the world. youtube,and Yahoo are all completely blocked in China. Chinese children are only allowed to play computer games at specified times.
According to OpenNet, Russia lags far behind with its censorship measures. YouTube is used by 85 percent of all Russians, making it the most popular app. The information infrastructure was originally built after the western OpenNet. There are dozens of smaller telecommunications providers. In fact, so far in the current conflict, Russia has done little to strengthen its weak Chinese-style firewall and cut off Internet access for its citizens, as it did during mass protests a few years ago.
Here is OpenNet’s Fazi: “Control of the media has a long tradition in Russia. With the spread of the Internet, the government has made efforts to develop appropriate control mechanisms. Compared to other countries, the Russian approach differs significantly from the other methods of controlling Internet activity. Instead of using Chinese-style filters to control Internet access, the Russian government prefers to use second- and third-generation techniques such as legal and technical tools and national information campaigns to shape the information environment and quell dissent and opposition.”
As Professor Freedman puts it, Russians “do not learn of the victims on their own side or the atrocities committed in their name. But the news is getting through, and the signs of dissatisfaction and resentment are unmistakable. The crackdown could get tougher, but should dissatisfaction spread to ordinary people who fear for their young men on the front lines, their families and friends in Ukraine, and the devaluation of their currency, Putin’s domestic problems could grow.”