Ukraine and the informative ammunition

PHOTO/Servicio de Prensa Presidencial de Ucrania/vía REUTERS - El presidente de Ucrania, Volodimir Zelenski
PHOTO/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/via REUTERS - Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenski

The Ukrainian president has not worn a tie or a jacket for sixteen months, surrounded by world leaders, international summits and meetings at the highest political level, which he attends wearing attire somewhere between Decathlon (hunting and fishing section) and Coronel Tapioca, in brown and greenish colours. He looks as if he has just arrived and immediately returns to the front. Pure political communication.

The communication also explains the constant reference to the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group fighting in Ukraine, conveying the message that there can be no just cause based on paid soldiers, although this is a growing trend in conflicts long before the invasion of Iraq, where tens of thousands of Blackwater (now Academia) mercenaries operated with criminal immunity. The prism of communication also explains the constant references to the Iranian nationality of drones used by the Russian Armed Forces, without us knowing the nationality of the rest of the equipment that flies and operates.


Given that most of the Ukrainian arsenal in the conflict comes from NATO, the information ammunition is very likely to have the same origin.

There is a lack of perspective to draw conclusions about the conflict stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with many precedents and much context of which little is heard. In any case, this crisis has ushered in a new form of US-NATO-European communication, the fruit of lessons learned, it is unclear whether they have been learned, about Russian information competition in the past.

Here we find so-called strategic communication, in many cases operated or combined with many other fields unrelated to communication (cyber defence) but serving as a pedagogical umbrella for the uninitiated.

Strategic communication abounds in NATO, borrowing from the US, which Europe is disciplinarily imitating in this military field, with the impression of a shortage of journalists and budget, when staff and resources is the indicator of the importance given to a public policy. One senses the presence of many technologists and specialists in uniformed and civilian security, but fewer specialists in communication.

In the world of private enterprise, communication has traditionally been seen as a subordinate element of marketing, while strategic communication has recently gained increasing prominence in large organisations and seems to have risen somewhat in status, albeit also linked to quantifiable and external objectives that are more prestigious than mere communication.

Returning to Ukraine, or to conflicts, we could say that there is no strategy without communication and no communication without a minimum strategy.

The Atlantic Alliance has had the NATO Centre of Excellence for Strategic Communications in Riga, Latvia, since 2014, from where it operates with increasing intensity in the diffuse field of disinformation.

NATO's strategic communications, following its terminology, envisages the coordinated use of NATO's communications activities and capabilities in support of NATO's policies, operations and activities, and in furtherance of NATO's objectives, where we find subsections such as the following: 

  • Public diplomacy: NATO's civilian communications and outreach efforts responsible for promoting awareness and generating understanding and support for NATO's policies, operations and activities, as a complement to Allied national efforts.
  • Public Affairs: NATO's civilian engagement through the media to inform the public about NATO's policies, operations and activities in a timely, accurate, responsive and proactive manner.
  • Military Public Affairs: promoting NATO's military goals and objectives to the public to improve awareness and understanding of the Alliance's military aspects.
  • Information operations: NATO military advice and coordination of military information activities to create the desired effects on the will, understanding and capabilities of adversaries and other parties in support of Alliance operations, missions and objectives.
  • Psychological operations: planned psychological activities using communication methods and other means directed at approved audiences to influence perceptions, attitudes and behaviour, affecting the achievement of political and military objectives.

We have all of this in the conflict arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which will be studied in the short term with strategic communication as one of its major operational novelties.

As we have seen so far, it is a matter of taking the initiative, remembering the communication or megaphone diplomacy in the months prior to the start of the conflict, and therefore the adversary is trailing behind, active versus reactive actions that always give some advantage, at the cost of the surprise effect.

A curious example of this is the British Ministry of Defence's almost daily Twitter feed of intelligence on the progress of the conflict, which is of little use to those involved and baffles the majority.

This explains the repeated announcement for weeks of the invasion of Ukraine (a self-fulfilling prophecy); or the imminent counteroffensive announced by Ukraine for at least the first half of 2023. 

The last step, yet to fit into the overall communication framework, is the recent news silence imposed by the Ukrainian authorities, and the increasing difficulty of journalists deployed there, with military officials on video ordering silence on the announced counteroffensive.

However, in this general approach of airing the enemy's alleged plans and silencing one's own, there is more tactics than strategy.

The powerful presence of strategic communication in the Ukrainian conflict, to a much greater extent than in past conflicts, compels the utmost attention as a discipline of success; and it also compels an awareness that such self-interested communication initiatives bring more obscurity than clarity to the conflict.

Fortunately, analysis of security, defence and international relations in Spain has been greatly enriched in recent years, with dozens of universities, think tanks, associations and study centres offering their products in a way that has never before been more accessible to the general public, a scenario that is enriched despite the biases and interests of each analytical forum, always in need of external funding.

It is noticeable that the quantity and diversity of specialised analysis on the Ukrainian war does not translate to the same extent into public, social and media debate, which is occupied by an impoverished and schematised to the point of caricature.


There is also a lack of greater political debate on the conflict in parliament, either because what is said there has not been discussed or because it has been decided that relevant changes such as the 26% increase in the Ministry of Defence's budget in little more than a year do not merit parliamentary discussion.

For all parties concerned, the ultimate goal should be an informed citizenry, and no one could help the citizen to reduce the complexity of the world like specialists or policy-makers in competitive competition. 

Moreover, the diversity of approaches, of approaches, of contrasting opinions, is a strength of an open and democratic society, not a weakness.

"The danger is not that it is difficult to distinguish the real from the false, but that the distinction ceases to matter," says American philosopher Michael Sandel in the June 2023 issue of Fundación Telefónica's Telos magazine. "Democracy requires persuasion, argumentation, debate across our differences," he argues, advocating the need for a civic education that involves something like media and information literacy that helps all citizens, not just young people, to interpret what we are told and encourages democratic public debate. "Learning to listen beyond disagreement is an important civic art. And it is not something we are born with. It is something we have to develop, practice and learn".

Article also published in Blog IDAPS.