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Relations with Russia

Ukraiian-Russian relations have a long and complicated history with many ups and downs. In recent decades, Ukraine’s relations with Russia have at times been cooperative and at times contentious, for instance with the several gas crises and disputes. The annexation of Crimea and Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine led Ukraine to adopt a more conflictual stance towards Russia.[1] Ukraine is currently fighting a war against Russia and Russian-backed separatists in its easternmost regions, and is the victim of a multi-vector hybrid war from Russia. Ukraine is therefore one of the first victims of Russia’s full-scale information war.[2] Because Ukraine has been fighting a war against Russia on many fronts, it has become a leading country in responding to Russian aggression and information warfare.

Political acknowledgement

Ukraine has undergone many political and societal changes since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, which—coupled with Russian aggression—made it necessary to update several strategic documents and doctrines. These documents delineate the many security threats Ukraine faces, and they highlight Russian aggression in the information sphere in particular. The 2015 National Security Strategy identifies Russia’s hybrid war and its political, economic, energy-related, informational, and military tools as threats. It also states that Russian information warfare and propaganda negatively impact security as well.[3] The Cyber Security Strategy of 2016 highlights the need for increased cyber security in the current security environment of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Additionally, the strategy identifies the presence of Russian or Russia-linked agents within Ukraine’s information infrastructure.[4] In 2017, Ukraine also adopted a new Doctrine of Information Security explicitly states the need to protect Ukraine from “the aggressive informational influence of the Russian Federation, aimed at propagating war, incitement of ethnic and religious hatred, invasive change of the constitutional system or any violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”[5] The Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also said in 2018 that “Russia wages [a] subversive war against Ukraine on all fronts.”[6]

Government countermeasures

The Ukrainian Parliament adopted a resolution in December 2014 approving the creation of the Ministry of Information Policy, which is tasked with ensuring Ukraine’s information sovereignty. The ministry drafts and advises on laws relating to information security, carries out social campaigns, and creates projects aimed at increasing media literacy within Ukraine. It also works with journalists throughout the country, including those in territories controlled by Russian and separatist forces.[7] However, the ministry has been criticised for impeding freedom of speech and is sometimes cast as an attempt to create a “Ministry of Truth.”[8] The ministry also lacks the resources, the power, and the competences to effectively implement the tasks it has been assigned.[9]

Additionally, the Ukrainian government has implemented extensive sanctions against Russia in response to Russian aggression. These include sanctions on Russian entities that threaten the informational and cybersecurity of Ukraine.[10] Ukraine has also blocked Russian state-funded media from its cable networks,[11] and in 2017 a presidential decree banned Russian social media sites and other websites to curb Russian influence and propaganda.[12] Blocking social media sites has been criticised as censorship and an incursion on internet freedom by Freedom House.[13] On the other hand, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has defended the decision, reasoning that blocking Russian social media is an issue of national security and not freedom of speech.[14] Furthermore, a ban on Russian films and books that propagate a Russian nationalist narrative, glorify the Russian government, military, or law enforcement was also established. The ban also applies to all Russian films created after 2014.[15]

Intelligence agency activities

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has been very active in countering both Russian aggression and influence. In their first public annual report, published in  2017, they identify an unprecedentedly high level of Russian intelligence activities in Ukraine, including subversive activities. The report further establishes that the majority of Ukrainian counterintelligence work focuses on countering threats from Russia.[16] The SBU has uncovered and detained several Russian intelligence officers, both of Russian and Ukrainian origin. In 2016, the SBU found a Ukrainian citizen working on behalf of Russia’s military intelligence agency.[17] In 2017 an interpreter for the Ukrainian prime minister was also detained on suspicion of working for Russia. This was of particular significance, as he had insights into the inner workings of the prime minister’s office.[18] That same year, the SBU also determined that a lieutenant colonel of the SBU had distributed information to Russian intelligence agencies.[19] In 2018, the SBU also apprehended an employee of a strategic company under the Ministry of Defence on suspicion of committing espionage on Russia’s behalf.[20] Additionally, the head of RIA Novosti Ukraine, Kirill Vyshinsky, was detained by the SBU in 2018 pending charges of high treason for receiving financial support from Russia.[21]  At the same time, the SBU has been criticised for corruption, for targeting Ukrainian anticorruption activists, and as being misused by the presidential administration.[22]


NGO activities

The Ukrainian NGO sector has been very active in addressing Russian disinformation and hybrid war. StopFake was launched in 2014 by journalists of the Kyiv Mohyla Journalism School, with the simple aim of identifying and refuting disinformation and propaganda surrounding the events in Ukraine. It has since grown into a prominent NGO, analysing all aspects of Russian propaganda.[23]

The Ukraine Crisis Media Centre (UCMC) was also launched in 2014to provide the international community with accurate information about events in Ukraine and the challenges the country faces. The UCMC has engaged extensively on the subject of Russian disinformation and hybrid warfare, and recently set up the Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group to dispense information about, and solutions to, Russian hybrid warfare.[24]

EuromaidanPress was created in 2014 and provides news, analysis, and research on Ukraine and on Russian disinformation campaigns in Ukraine, aiming to counter Russian disinformation.[25]

InformNapalm began as a volunteer initiative, responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014. They provide investigations debunking myths and exposing Russia’s hybrid war.[26]

Information Resistance was launched in 2014, working to counter external threats to Ukraine’s information space.[27]

The Institute of Mass Information was founded in 1995 and is still working towards improving media literacy in Ukraine.[28]

[1] Moshes, A. & Nizhnikau, R. (2018) ’Russian-Ukrainian Relations: The Farewell that Wasn’t’ FIIA Briefing Paper    
[2] Snegovaya M. (2015) ‘Putin’s Information warfare in Ukraine’ Institute for the Study of War 
[3] Ukrainian Government (2015) ‘National Security Strategy of Ukraine’  
[4] Ukrainian Government (2016) ’Cyber Security Strategy of Ukraine’ 
[5] Ukranian Government (2017) ’Doctrine of Information Security of Ukraine’  
[6] President of Ukraine (2018) ’President. Russia Wages Subversive War against Ukraine on all fronts’  
[7] Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine (2018) ‘About Ministry’; Internews Ukraine (2017) ’Words and Wars’   
[8] Hromadske (2017) ‘Head of Ukraine’s Contentious Information Ministry Resigns’ Hromadske International, Vikhrov, M. (2014) ‘Ukraine forms ‘ministry of truth’ to regulate the media’ The Guardian 
[9] Kruk, K. (2017) ‘Analyzing the Ground Zero’ European Values 
[10] National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine (2017) ‘On the imposition of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)’ 
[11] Ennis, S. (2014) ’Ukraine hits back at Russian TV onslaught’  
[12] Olearchyk, R. & Seddon, M. (2017) ’Ukraine Blocks access to Russia Websites’ Financial Times; Hromadske international (2017) ‘Ukraine Banns Russian Social Media Networks’ 
[13] Freedom House (2017) ‘Freedom of the Net 2017: Ukraine’  
[14] UNIAN (2018) ‘NATO chief comments on Ukraine’s ban of Russian social networks’ 
[15] BBC (2016) ‘Ukraine Bans Russian films in media war’, Volokh, E. (2015) ‘Ukraine bans broadcast of many Russian films’ The Washington Post 
[17] Reuters (2016) ’Ukraine says catches Russian military intelligence spy red-handed’  
[18] Reuters (2017) ’Ukraine detains suspected Russian spy in premier’s inner circle’ 
[19] Interfax-Ukraine (2017) ’Ukrainian Security Service says identifies second Russian spy’ Kyivpost 
[20] Security Service of Ukraine (2018) ’Kyiv: SBU detains Russian spy – employee of strategic company under MoD of Ukraine’  
[21] RFERL (2018) ‘Ukraine court orders Russian Journalist Held on Suspicion of Treason’ RadioFreeEurope  
[22] Cohen, J. (2017) ‘Something is Very Wrong in Kyiv’ Atlantic Council 
[23] StopFake,  Internews Ukraine (2017) ’Words and Wars’ 
[24] UCMC,
[25] EuromaidanPress  
[26] InfoNapalm  
[27] Information Resistance 

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