Russian Information Warfare against the Ukrainian State and Defence Forces: April-December 2014

Russian Information Warfare against the Ukrainian State and Defence Forces: April-December 2014

This volume was edited by Dr. Vladimir Sazonov, M.A. Kristiina Müür, and Dr. Holger Mölder. The publication was prepared and published with support from the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence and the Estonian National Defence College. The research was carried out March-July 2015.

NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence
Estonian National Defence College
Tartu, 2016

The project analyses the information activities of the Russian Federation performed against Ukraine from 1 April until 31 December 2014. Firstly, it examines and systematises the phenomenology of image building in the Russian media about Ukraine, its authorities, and its armed forces during the anti-terrorist operation in Eastern Ukraine. Then it gives an overview of the Russian information activities and their impact in Ukraine.

From December 2014 the Russian military has adopted a new doctrine that explicitly states that information superiority is essential to achieving victory on the physical battleground in the modern war.1 Therefore the Ukrainian case offers lessons that can potentially be applied to other NATO member states. For example, in many cases Russia actively accuses the Baltic States of the same matters as it accuses Ukraine in order to deliberately discredit these countries in the international arena (e.g. accusations of rehabilitation of Nazism etc). It is crucial for NATO to draw appropriate conclusions from the ongoing conflict in Europe in order to further strengthen the unity of the alliance and avoid such conflict scenarios between Russia and NATO in the future.

The objective of this research is to identify how the Russian media portrays the Ukrainian military and security structures, including the policies of the Kyiv government and their ‘collaboration’ with the West. The research group looks at how messages disseminated in the media attempt to construct attitudes and advocate behaviours in parallel to political and military events on the ground in Ukraine.

The study combines standardised content analysis (online news and social media) with interviews. During the course of two field trips to Ukraine (Kyiv and Eastern Ukraine) interviews were carried out with different media representatives, political and military experts, officials and politicians, as well as soldiers and officers of the Ukrainian defence forces that have actually been involved in the conflict in Donbass.

The media analysis executed for this report maps the various communicative strategies used in Russian information campaigns against the Ukrainian defence forces, and the interviews help to provide an assessment of their possible impact. Understanding the nature of Russian information warfare provides NATO, the Baltic States, and Europe in general with input that can improve the level of preparedness to respond to the challenges of 21st century warfare.

Dr. Vladimir Sazonov, M.A. Kristiina Müür and Dr. Holger Mölder


Dr. Vladimir Sazonov, Dr. Holger Mölder, M.A. Kristiina Müür, Prof. Dr. Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, M.A. Igor Kopõtin, COL (ret.) Aarne Ermus, MAJ Karl Salum, CPT Andrei Šlabovitš, Dr. Viljar Veebel and Dr. René Värk

Leader of the project

Dr. Vladimir Sazonov


MAJ Uku Arold, Mr. Vallo Toomet, MAJ Karl Salum, Mr. Ilmar Raag, CPT Olavi Punga


Col. (ret.) Prof. Dr. Zdzisław Śliwa (Baltic Defence College), Elina Lange-Ionatamishvili (NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence), Dr. Yevhen Fedchenko (Director, Mohyla School of Journalism, The National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy)