Russia's Information Warfare: The Case of Ukraine in a Global Comparative Context

CIUS conference investigates how Russian propaganda polarizes public debate

Oleksandr Pankieiev - 4 October 2019

Most of us turn to the Internet for information and along with rapidly emerging communication technology, mounting concerns about "fake news" and polarizing political tensions make online resources increasingly difficult to navigate. In light of this issue, the Alberta Society for the Advancement of Ukrainian Studies (ASAUS) and the University of Alberta's Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) is organizing a conference titled "Russia's Information Warfare: The Case of Ukraine in a Global Comparative Context."

In this interview, ASAUS's president, Oleksandr Pankieiev, answers five questions about the event and its goals.

What inspired you to organize this event?

When Russia occupied Crimea in 2014 and Luhansk and Donetsk regions in Ukraine, I realized that Russia used not only traditional means of war but also informational influence. I started tracking when this happened and many others started publishing on this. To our surprise, Russia started using these technologies far before 2013 and Ukraine was a test ground. After Ukraine, we could see how Russia used almost the same techniques to influence the United States during the 2016 presidential elections, referendum on Brexit in United Kingdom in the same year. Russia used information technology to make people afraid of different societal groups, especially migrants and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

It's very difficult to analyze Ukraine's case without looking at other countries. We focused on Ukraine because Ukraine is important to Russia, historically.

In what ways do you feel that this event is relevant to today's political climate?

In today's climate, there is a lot of evidence for Russian propaganda influencing different institutions around the world. We see this as a danger to democracy in every country because we are not protected by any means. Because digital technology is developing so quickly, it's really difficult to keep up with the pace at which Russia is creating these channels of information to reach the general public. In a couple weeks, there will also be elections in Canada and next year, there will be an election in the United States, so it's important to think critically about media coverage on these events.

Who is this conference for?

The idea of this conference is to bring together different experts from different backgrounds. We will have experts in policy analysis and gender issues, historians, and people who represent mass media and traditional media. Our goal is to help people from different backgrounds communicate with a general audience and we want to include everyone in this discussion. The conference will also have the elements of workshops, and we will focus on specific case studies.

What are some topics that will be discussed and who are some keynote speakers?

Jessikka Aro, a journalist from Finland, will be speaking about her personal experiences. She researched Russia's [internet] trolls, who attacked her and tried to present her as an untrustworthy source. We also have a journalist from Canada, Justin Ling, who has worked for VICE media. He has recently published about Russia's influence and how its sources enter Canada's information environment. Marcel Van Herpen, a well-known security specialist from Europe, will be presenting on the Russian Orthodox Church, which is one of the main tools that Russia is using to disseminate information inside and outside the country. We will also have Lisa Gaufman, fromGermany, who will talk about how Russia's propaganda works. In addition, we will have a speaker from the China Institute, who will talk about the relationship between Russia, China and Ukraine.

What do you hope will be the outcome of this event?

We hope that we will help people from the government, intelligence services and also the general public to realize to what extent this information influences us in making decisions, in how we vote, how we react to the news and how we describe things in words. We want to teach people to be more careful on the Internet and in their communication with others. Right now, everything can be distorted and taken out of context and we hope that people will learn how influential this really is. Also, it's a good opportunity for scholars from different backgrounds to share their findings. This will be a multi-faceted conference and we will cover as many aspects of information warfare as possible.

The conference will take place on Saturday, October 12, 2019 from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Varscona Hotel on Whyte. Admission is free and is open to the public, including UAlberta staff and students. Light refreshments will be served. Please register at the following link: