Lidiya Smola.* Instruments of Civilizational War of Russia against Ukraine and Countermeasures


The current conflict in eastern Ukraine is not only warfare between ATO forces and military groupings of separatists controlled and supported by Russia. This is first and foremost a struggle between two value systems (civilizational ideas): Eurasian (imperial), promoted by the Kremlin and Western (liberal and democratic), favoured by the Ukrainian people during the Revolution of Dignity. We have to admit that Russia managed to inflict a number of sensitive strokes to Ukraine at the ideological front, using powerful instruments of non-military methods of preparing and conducting the war.

And this has caused, to a greater extent, huge territorial, material and human losses of the Ukrainian side in the conflict.

In view of the above, there is a need for Ukraine (and in a broad sense - for the world liberal democracies) to study carefully and classify the above instruments of civilizational war to develop appropriate countermeasures. In particular, there is an evident need for change in the military-political lexicon (for usual notions of local conflict, anti-terrorist operation, and war are not enough to characterize the type of confrontation we are facing today in the Donbass) and in normative legal documents.

However, terms and notions suggested now by the Ukrainian authorities, experts and journalists are not yet clearly defined in the scholar, political, and legal framework. This uncertainty provides space for various political manipulations and weakens Ukraine in her fight against the enemy.

The Russia-Ukraine war is mainly treated in academic and publicistic studies as hybrid [1] or nonlinear [2]. The following definitions are more infrequent: "discourse war "[3], "consciental war"[4], "civilizational war", "war of senses" or "war for civilization choice of Ukrainians"[5]. Despite the urgency of this issue, there is no universally accepted definition that can be applied to the Russia-Ukraine confrontation and to such notions as "hybrid warfare," "nonlinear war", or "civilizational war".

Speaking about civilizational war, researchers mostly refer to S. Huntington, who defined it as a war at the so called cultural borders that separate civilizations - certain cultural identities that distinguish one community from another.[6] In his turn, P.Buchanan calls civilizational war the one without using weapons (if not to take into account local armed conflicts), which has "information and cultural nature"[7]. The notion of "civilizational choice" and further "civilizational war" or "war of senses" has been actively used for a long time in the Kremlin discourse in a slightly different, specific, context.[8] This type of war is considered as confrontation between the Western world and the "Russian World". Thus, Vladimir Putin stressed the existence of a single civilizational development of Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians and the need for their reunification and called the collapse of the USSR geopolitical catastrophe at the conference "Orthodox-Slavonic Values - the Basis of Civilizational Choice of Ukraine", in June 2013 [9].

Analysis of developments of Russian theorists of civilizational war provides an opportunity to highlight and summarize their "vision of algorithm of assuring civilizational war and its main components - science, ideology and language - which serve as a single sense bond and allow this form of war to fit organically into the body of contemporary culture – to live by its rules, to be disguised in its forms, to fit into everyday practice of a layman "[10].

The first component - science - is very important as it is, in the broadest sense, it is not only concerned with the area of unexplored and technology of sense production, but also legitimizes them through a variety of research and expert bodies: institutes, think tanks, etc. And the issue is not only in "rewriting" history or producing new mythologemes for your own people and the world community. Thus, the structures of Russia in the West are trying for a long time to convince the audience there that Ukraine has not got its own history of statehood and subjectness and in her unconditional affiliation to the Russian civilization project. Russian information agencies, in particular the flagship of Russia's foreign broadcasting Russia Today with audience of over 700 million viewers successfully exploits such a privilege of democratic societies as freedom of expression and dissemination of information for spreading misinformation about the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In this context it is necessary to recall the emergence of such phenomenon as post-truth politics. Compilers of the Oxford dictionary recognized the term «post-truth» as the word of 2016 and defined it as the circumstances in which objective facts are less important for the formation of public opinion than appeals to emotions and personal beliefs.[11]   So massive publishing of propaganda and pseudo-scientific literature in Russia in 2006 - 2013, where the future Russian-Ukrainian war was described and utopianism of the existence of the Ukrainian state was proven, could be considered as elements of the implementation of the aforementioned policies. An efficient way to influence the mass consciousness were also the publications of "results" of public polls carried out by pocket sociological services, which every time demonstrate broad public support for the Russian authorities and thus legitimize actions of the Kremlin.

The second component - ideology - serves as a value frame that defines the space of science (research topics) and the rules for the production of scientific senses.  Science has got its own laws, but they must be supplemented or clarified with other non-cognitive values - political, mercantile etc. Ideology, in fact, has taken the place of religion, painted itself in a scientific colour, but remained in the field of faith (because it is impossible to prove rationally either correctness or attractiveness of an ideological doctrine). Therefore, it sets the motion vector to scientific reflection and justifies the movement with ideological terms. [12]

The third (according to Russian experts, it is extremely important, dynamic and plastic) component of civilizational war - the language - should be regarded as a universal and very efficient tool of war for the minds of people, because the senses and values are materialized, compiled and, most importantly, transformed by means of language [13]. It is worth pointing out that the speech aspect of the world perception and self-identification was mentioned by K.W. von Humboldt (language as a basis for modeling the world, attitude to the world, one’s own actions), Ferdinand de Saussure (language as a system of capacities of certain people), Potebnya (language as a product of "the national spirit", of thinking), and L.Vygotsky (the word as a means of directing attention, abstraction, synthesis of meaning (notion) and perception of reality). It should also be noted that the language is perceived as the most decisive factor among the attributes of national identity included into the survey of Pew Research Center. The majority of respondents in each surveyed country indicate that in order to be considered a true representative of the nation, it is very important to speak the native tongue.[14] Russian experts and ideologists not only took these aspects into account, but also stressed in their works the importance of the issue of language in promoting Russian interests. They frankly emphasized the fact that one of the most popular and proven methods during the information warfare is manipulating the language, and namely - substitution of concepts. After all, the freedom of maneuver is unlimited, in fact, in this sphere: you can distort the context without touching the phonetic form; you can change phonetics, and meanwhile retain the old context and withdraw it from the blow of the enemy; it is possible by offering your own system of language, to make the enemy think and speak in the direction you want. Take, for instance, the word "patriot", which formerly was considered abusive in the Russian political space. The word remained, but the content changed beyond recognition. Instead, the words "liberal" and "democrat" have now become humiliating [15]. Let us recall also how the vocabulary of Russian propagandists obtained “Ukrainian fascists”, “urkops” (“the dills”), “coup d’etat”, and “Kiev junta”. In fact, the authors of the Russian concept of the civilizational war added to their armoury methods of Goebbels propaganda.

It is possible and necessary to develop a systematic strategy and efficient countermeasures on the basis of the analysis of the main tools of civilizational wars used by aggressor against Ukraine. There is some progress in scientific, ideological and informational aspects of confrontation. Debates are held on overcoming Russian imperial discourse in academic and expert circles.[16] During the war, NGOs ("Information Resistance», Stop Fake, InformNapalm et al.) spare no efforts to expose the activities of the Russian propaganda machine. European official structures and the public are promptly informed about each Russian fake. Representatives of the Ukrainian think tanks initiated discussions on the challenges facing the Western world - Russia's use of instruments of democratic society to disseminate lies and manipulations with information.

Russian ideological pressure should be opposed by the strategy of soft and smart power - an important place in which, according to the author of the concept J. Nye, takes history. Back in 2014, American historian T. Snyder said that we lacked a manual that would explain Ukraine as part of the European and world history. Successful examples of struggle at the historical front have already become some publications and websites ("History campaign against illiteracy", "History front of K.Halushko", "History of Ukraine from grandfather Svyryd"). Though, unfortunately, these examples are still isolated and have not yet gained systematic, strategic nature. Large-scale popularization of the Ukrainian history with stresses on victories over the enemies would change mental attitude in society towards the war we are currently waging. As it was rightly noted by a Ukrainian scholar V.Babka, the mere pursuit of economic and political modernization is insufficient and inefficient without reforming mental foundations of the life of the society through the implementation of appropriate humanitarian policy. He stresses that efforts to move away from Russian history only updates the image of Russia, and not always as an enemy, because not every Ukrainian was ready to perceive it like that before the annexation of the Crimea and attack at Eastern Ukraine. And as a result, instead of showing "European charcter" of Ukraine its "not-being Russian" is demonstrated [17]. Scholars, publicists and other researchers are facing an important task to show success stories of Ukraine, which, in reality, are numerous, but a small proportion of the population knows about them.

As for the ideological sphere, there is an urgent need to define (especially at the level of top political and military leadership of the country) the character of war we are waging. Semantic war, i.e. a war for senses and dominant discourse (according to S. Datsyuk), has already manifested itself in the formation of a new agenda. Memetic warfare as a tool in hybrid warfare has already played its major role. Such memes as ukropy (dills), Colorados, krymnash (Crimea’s ours), polite people, vatniki (quilted jackets), PTN-PNH, maydowns, banderlog, svidomity, cyborgs have become elements of mental weapons and influenced the formation of views of opposing parties [18]. However, a prerequisite of efficient countering the enemy would be an official recognition of the position that Ukraine is waging a war for her existence and its distribution in the information sphere. The war for survival, - as aptly wrote war theorist M. van Creveld, - inspires people to deeds of valor and determination considerably superior than those, which should be got to if the point was just to achieve a goal, to implement policies, to expand sphere of influence or protect interests. Such a war could inspire people to victims which cannot be imagined at normal time ... the one who is struggling for existence, has another advantage. Necessity knows no rules and warrior feels right to violate the rules of war and use unlimited force, while his opponent fighting to achieve political goals, cannot do so, otherwise he would suffer from consequences[19].

In the context of aspects of opposing Russia at the ideological level, the prerequisite is the impact on Ukraine's information space. Monitoring of Ukrainian media gives grounds to assert conditional existence of two "parallel information spaces": one deals with war, losses are calculated, fallen heroes are honoured, the other is dominated with entertainment shows and popular science programmes. Transfering to the wartime regime, as it has been recently suggested by E. Marchuk (not in the sense of announcing martial law, but in the sense of increased intensity and mobilization), would change the existing situation. It is difficult to gain victory when only the Defence Ministry with its General Staff, National Guards, MFA and active groups of volunteers are at the state of war. Society, except for families of ATO participants, mostly sees war only as individual stories on TV or discussions in social networks. Switching the country to " war rails " without legally formalizing this status, but with the appropriate content of the information space, could stimulate both authorities and society in general to more decisive actions in reforming the country.

W. von Humboldt said that language was a kind of intermediary world between the people and the reality around them. Language acts as our "navigator" in cognizing social reality. Implementation of the concept of "the Russian World" and "protecting the Russian language" were key arguments in justification of armed aggression against Ukraine, which led to the politization of the Russian language ( "if you speak Russian - you support Russia", "language of invader"). The Russian language has become, to some extent, the language of war, which applies strict dichotomy "dills" - "militia", "nationalists" - "civilians." Even Russian journalists emphasize: "the unique character of war with Ukraine is that this is really the language war." And they admit themselves that reproduction of neutral language is not possible  any more[20].

The influence of language on the security of the nation does not require proof. Remember that, to some extent, all of us are under the authority of a specific language, which is the means of expression in a particular society, i.e. "in the language picture of the world" (after L.Weisgerber). According to the research by KIIS, Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine were the most vulnerable to the influence of Russian propaganda. Reviewing language policy of the state is a national security issue, although the arguments in favour of tough Ukrainianization are not quite competent. The Russian language is synchronized with Ukrainian and often is the means to obtain information and for cognition of the world. In the context of language we should rather talk about outlook changes, filling the information space with Ukrainian quality product and breaking stereotypes of Ukrainian as the language of a narrow circle of patriotically disposed citizens.

In the civilizational war of Russia against Ukraine aggressor uses massive tools whose efficiency has long been caused not only by significant financial and media resources, popularization of the idea of "the Russian World", but specific mentality  of Ukrainians, historical memory about the "brotherly" nations, large gaps in education and the lack of vision of motion vector and a clear strategy for developing the country.

In the context of Russian-Ukrainian war we mostly hear about violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, destruction of the international security system and disregard for international law. However, it should be stressed that Russia has violated the foundations of the world order. Civilizational war of Russia against Ukraine is a new war with the long-proven and new methods of influence in the information society. And the threats laid by the Russian aggressor have become a problem not only for Ukraine but for the whole world community.



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*Information about the author:

Lidiya Smola, Doctor of Political Sciences, professor, National Technical University of Ukraine "Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute "


The article is based on the address at the International Conference "Civilizational War of Russia against Ukraine and the West, Outlook and Informational Dimension."

04.04.2017 21:46:00