It could be thought that the Russians mastered disinformation and cyber attacks. At the moment, it is the Ukrainians who are winning the battle of the narrative, the digital, in Ukraine, and to this is added a string of Western companies in retreat in Russia. Although its effects against the invasion, against the tanks and the bombings remain to be seen, a new type of resistance has arisen in the Ukraine against the invasion. It is the resistance of the horizontal against the vertical.
However, and despite some demonstrations, many Russians think that it is not an invasion or war, but, as the official version points out, a “special military operation” against “neo-fascists” (including President Zelensky, of Jewish origin ) in Ukraine, nor does he believe that the Russian attack is massacring civilians, despite the fact that an estimated 11 million Russians have relatives in the invaded country. At least that is what various Ukrainians who contact these relatives and friends in Russia say, according to some reliable reports.
Putin has managed to change what is “real” for a good number of Russians, and represses and imprisons those who deny it. It is not that the truth is the first casualty in a war, it is that misinformation, false news, are part of war. They always have been and in our days much more. But of course, as dictators do now – like the military junta after the coup in Myanmar – the Russian regime has cut Facebook services in Russia, essential for citizen communication, and reduced those of Twitter. Disinformation warfare works in Russia, but not in Ukraine or the rest of the open world. In Europe, the broadcast of the RT chain, an important source of disinformation, has been suspended. Putin is losing the information war outside of Russia.
Ukrainians have organized. The Government and the citizens, with a horizontal collective intelligence, a crowdsourcing, against the vertical control of information in Russia that has put its entire apparatus to this service. The Kiev government called for Russia to be expelled from ICANN and other international Internet governance bodies, but this would have been detrimental to network access for several Central Asian countries that depend on Russian companies for these services, and could have a devastating over the entire global network.
In Ukraine, civil society has mobilized, driven by the active digital minister Mikhailo Fedorov. “We are the first in the world to introduce this type of warfare”, he declared his number two Oleksandr Bornyakov, for whom “it is both simple and powerful, and impossible to disrupt or break.” Ukraine has assembled a veritable army of hackers, with 200,000 volunteers, reaching beyond its borders and reaching dozens of other countries, to go against Russian media sites, and push the Ukrainian narrative on social media. The Ukrainian government is getting significant donations – more than 50 million euros – in cryptocurrencies.
With the invasion, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have turned to Telegram (users went from half a million to a million in a few days), and especially its information channel UkraineNOW, which has proved so useful in disseminating data on the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19, and now about the war. At one point, Pavel Durov, Russian, founder of Telegram, proposed to suspend the social network in Ukraine and Russia, but when it was reported how important he was, he gave it up.
There is another resistance that has been called corporate or capitalist: day after day the number of Western companies is growing, from McDonald’s, which has at least temporarily closed its restaurants, to Apple or Shell, through Netflix, Ikea or Zara, which are suspending their sales and services or divesting to the extent they can in Russia. It is true that the sanctions – financial, supply and even moral and reputational – have made a dent in its ability to act in Russia, so this, in addition to resistance, can be considered a system of private sanctions, seeking to impact a population that had become accustomed to Western brands. in what some, like Thomas Friedman, call Russia’s “cancel” policy.
In this conflict, the Russian cyberattacks have either not really started yet, or they have not had the desired effect, but these new forms of resistance have made their way, with present lessons for various futures.