Information war

July 16, 2014 - 1:55:57 am

The conflict in Ukraine has entered a stage where information is used to discredit the enemy.

With fighting escalating and the civilian death toll inching up, Ukraine threatens to get into a situation from where it will find it hard to bail itself out. Incidents over the last two days in the former Soviet Republic show signs of an information war developing with Russia, which has been backing separatists in eastern Ukraine.  On Monday, government controlled Russian TV showed footage of a Ukrainian child purportedly belonging to an insurgent being nailed to a wall by what the station said were Ukrainian troops. The footage sparked outrage in Russia, Ukraine and the world over for the immense cruelty it depicted. 

Ukraine vehemently denied that its soldiers were involved in the act and accused Russia of pernicious propaganda to discredit the government in Kiev. Russia tried to turn the situation to its advantage by blaming Ukrainian troops of attacking and killing separatist rebels.  Kiev said Russia was resorting to Goebbel’s techniques to tarnish the image of Poroshenko’s government, referring to Hitler’s propaganda chief.  Is Ukraine going the way of Syria where the government of Bashar Al Assad is killing its own people? An attack by a fighter jet early yesterday morning destroyed an apartment block in the Ukrainian town of Snhizne in the Donetsk region. Eleven people were killed, many more injured and scores rendered homeless. Shocked apartment residents blamed Kiev and longed for Russian assistance. 

A Ukrainian spokesman denied that his country was involved, insisting that the attack was carried out by an unknown aircraft to make it appear that the Ukrainian military was killing its own people. 

Such mudslinging has been seen in the Syria war from the time of a chemical attack in 2013 in the outskirts of Damascus. The assault, which claimed a large number of lives and drew international condemnation, brought a new dimension to the conflict. Assad’s government, while denying the attack, blamed the rebels for killing Syrians and endangering the lives of thousands of their countrymen. The other side denied that it was in any way responsible for the ghastly incident and accused the government of killing its own people and trying to discredit the rebels. The blame game continued for long until an international enquiry was ordered to fix responsibility.  The worsening situation in Ukraine not only poses a danger to its people and their freedom, it also threatens to turn into a battle of blaming the other for what can be called reputational advantage.  The downing of a Ukrainian transport aircraft on Monday has met with similar vibes on both sides. Kiev has said it was brought down by a missile from the other side of the border, hinting that Russian troops were involved. 

Information in war has always been used as a weapon to weaken the other side, often proving deadlier than armaments. Probably, this has started happening in Ukraine. What should worry the world is that this stage of a war is often a precursor to the conflict going into a worse phase.