On 12th November, The Henry Jackson Society hosted ‘What the war in Ukraine tells us about the propaganda battles of the 21st Century’, featuring Ukraine commentators Peter Pomerantsev and Marina Pesenti.
Pomerantsev opened by noting the complexities of hybrid warfare, saying that ‘in hybrid warfare you can never quite define who you are fighting.’ He argued that this problem is deeply relevant to the information war being fought between Ukraine and Russia.
Pomerantsev further argued that ‘in the 21st Century, anyone can be an information warrior’, and that because of this, the West should seek to support and train those ‘information warriors’ in Ukraine, in order to turn the tables on Russian propaganda.
Pomerantsev closed by saying that the internet had not brought about a new era of common realities, but rather that ‘everybody wants to live in their little bubbles…the idea you can coalesce around a common reality has dissapeared.’
Pesenti opened by stressing that the nature of mainstream Ukrainian media is fundamentally oligarchical. However, she argued that ‘social media and civil society have a fundamental role in the conflict.’
Pesenti went on to say that ‘Ukraine is not prepared to handle long term, multi-layered, sophisticated information campaigns, such as with MH17.’ Moreover, that ‘there is no attempt in Ukraine to construct an alternative reality…there is a fragmented media in civil society.’
Pesenti closed by arguing that the ‘Ukrainian Government should separate the media from politics…agendas should be driven by reality.’
Both speakers stressed the need for greater public awareness in the west regarding issues of propaganda warfare, and the extent to which misleading information can affect perceived realities.