Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Non-State Actors in the Russo-Ukrainian War

Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Non-State Actors in the Russo-Ukrainian War

Article excerpt

Introduction

Non-state actors have played a significant role in creating and influencing the current war in Ukraine. From competing narratives broadcasted by media outlets to misinformation campaigns designed to confuse and cause fear, the media strive to gain the advantage of discourse. Likewise, think tanks and academia influence not only public discourse, but political agendas and, ultimately, policy. Religious groups also take sides either by supporting Ukrainian citizens adversely affected by the conflict or actively participating in promoting a nationalistic narrative with religious and historical themes.1 The Russo-Ukrainian War and illegal occupation of Crimea have created opportunities for organized crime to flourish in the vacuum left by the Ukrainian government's inability to control its sovereign territory. On both sides of the war militias have quickly organized and are often more effective than government forces. Non-governmental and government organized non-governmental organizations (NGOs and GONGOs) play a variety of roles within Ukraine, while also bearing transnational influence. The Ukrainian diaspora continues to provide varied levels of support for their native country. The extent to which non-state actors will have an impact on the outcome of the conflict is yet to be determined; however, non-state actors have and will continue to play a significant role from the battlefields of eastern Ukraine to the halls of the US Congress.

Media

Russian mass media is controlled by the Kremlin. This is a characteristic of autocratic states that fear counter-narratives to the government's approved messaging. As President Vladimir Putin observed the waves of social unrest over the last decade, from color revolutions to the Arab Spring, he became aware of the power of social media and messaging in the new domain of war - information space. Russia Today (RT) and Channel One are two of the largest stateowned television networks that broadcast pro-Russian multilingual programming worldwide. Russia has transformed a traditional non-state actor into an instrument of the state to shape domestic and foreign opinion and silence the opposition.

The use of media to demoralize, confuse and delay opponents was most notably seen after the downing of flight MH17. Western media networks asserted, based on initial evidence, that Russian troops or Russian-backed separatists were responsible. Russian mass media quickly put into question initial claims by accusing Ukrainian troops or NATO forces of the act. This use of disinformation created conspiracy theories that diminished the truth.2

RT was established in 2005 to familiarize the world with the Russian viewpoint. In 2015, the network enjoyed a budget of $275 million provided by the Russian government. Notwithstanding its massive budget, RT has not been as effective as Russia had hoped, and is now considered a laughable source of information.3 In fact, in March 2014 news anchor Liz Whal resigned on air in opposition to the "whitewashing" of events by the Russian government, stating that it was against her morals and ethics as a journalist to continue working at RT.4 The network continues to provide extensive coverage of the situation in Ukraine and greatly influences opinions of Russians and Ukrainians, especially in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, where Russia censors any pro-Western media.

Ukraine, along with the West, is struggling to find an appropriate response to Russia's advantage in the information space. However, despite spending billions of dollars on propaganda campaigns, Russian media are losing credibility, and the international community has a lower perception of Russia than before Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity. Unified Western action in Ukraine has been slow much to the delight of Russian authorities, but any good will toward Russia that existed prior to 2013 has been lost. A Pew research poll conducted in April and May 2015 found that of the eight NATO counties surveyed, only 26 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Russia. …

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