Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko decided on 16 May to block access in Ukraine to several Russian websites. This is a measure aimed against Kremlin-controlled tools of influence on Ukrainian society, writes James Wilson.
It could also be a double edged sword as blocking internet access is a tool often employed by Russia itself, and is easily circumvented. But it is a sad truth that Russian media today is very good at creating stories, inventing threatening facts, spreading fear, doubt, bias and suspicion. Action is long overdue. Russian propaganda uses all the tools in the black PR kit box. Hundreds of millions in hard currency is spent on propaganda by the Russian state and colours Russia’s presence in every country.
It operates on the principle that if you throw mud, something will stick, and a seed of doubt can be created that maybe there is some truth in the false information distributed.
Propaganda acts subtly and exploits human feelings and aspirations, goading people to actions whose consequences future generations will need to work hard to correct. It is highly organised; the Kremlin backed media strikes the tone and then a legion of internet trolls backs up the party line by multiplying the message and disseminating it through social media.
This kind of disinformation distorts public opinion, election campaigns, government decisions, and business operations. Russian business is making the best use of propaganda to dominate markets. Russian companies prefer avoiding competition by destroying the reputation of their rivals in the public eye.
Kremlin propaganda hits harder the countries more exposed to Russia. In Ukraine, which has a long and bloody history with Russia, propaganda is especially painful. Russia knows all the tender spots in Ukraine and plays on them. Corrupt Ukrainian authorities in the pocket of Russian companies sometimes help them to attack their Ukrainian rivals, and win back their position in the Ukrainian marketplace. Supported by pro-Russian smear campaigns, Ukrainian authorities launch prosecution investigations against Ukrainian businesses.
One such example is the case of “Impulse”, a unique Ukrainian Research, Development and production company, which develops proprietary automation solutions for complex systems, like nuclear power generators and logistic systems for distribution and transport.
The company is located in Severodonetsk in Luhansk oblast, which is not far from the border with Russia, and has a history of contracts with Russian clients. This was not unusual for Ukrainian businesses in the pre-war period, especially if it was near the Russian border. Nowadays the company has a solid reputation confirmed by tenders financed by EBRD which it has won in partnership with the French company Areva, the Czech company Skoda and the Slovak company VUJE. It is known to be patriotic, to support the Ukrainian Government its patriotic stance and currently has no business relations with Russia.
However, the pro-Russian lobby in Ukraine is keen to squeeze “Impulse” out of business by launching a prosecution investigation into the supplies of Impulse manufactured boron meters to South-Ukrainian Nuclear Plant. According to the investigation, the equipment was of substandard quality (Although the client is fully satisfied that the quality standards have been met). They allege that kickbacks were paid to Energoatom, a Ukrainian state-owned power company which generates 55% of Ukrainian electricity and is responsible for the safe operation of all nuclear power plants in the country.
These kind of investigations are followed by the pro-Russian media and accompanied by emotional allegations that Impulse is leaning towards Russia, that it still has contracts with Russian agents, and does “business on blood”. At the same time “experts” are then paid by the pro-Russian media to make statements which are quoted in order to create an atmosphere of fear that the Ukrainian nuclear energy industry will collapse and then the Chernobyl disaster will repeat itself unless drastic measures are taken. Such measures, of course, include the need for Ukraine to buy Russian nuclear fuel and equipment for atomic power plants.
Energoatom is a main target for the Russian nuclear lobby in Ukraine and has been under constant media siege for more than three years now, ever since it began diversifying its supply base by buying nuclear fuel and equipment from Western suppliers.
The attacks are now getting dirtier, as a Ukrainian-Czech-Polish consortium is about to finish construction of a new nuclear power plant in Khmelnitsky, Western Ukraine. This plant is intended to supply electricity to European markets and will compete with two Russian projects which are also nearing completion. Russia is building two nuclear power plants, one in Belarus, where one reactor collapsed last autumn, and one near Saint Petersburg in Lenigrad oblast, Russia.
The Kremlin is now looking for ways to hinder completion of the Khmelnitsky project once again using black PR. Kremlin propaganda is a formidable tool in the armoury of Russia’s nuclear diplomacy. It knows no boundaries in its attempts to eliminate rivals to Russian business abroad. It is difficult even for the EU to deal with it, to say nothing of Ukraine.
The saving grace is that propaganda can be identified quickly once you know and recognise that it is at work. But, businesses operating in Ukraine should be aware of the threats it poses so that they can identify the risks and adapt their communications strategies accordingly.
The author, James Wilson, is the Founding Director of the EU Ukraine Business Council.
Follow EU Today on Social media: