The Alliance’s main tasks are to support Ukraine’s right to self-defence and prevent escalation. That is what we are doing, tells Vineta Kleine, Head of the NATO Information and Documentation Centre in Kyiv in an interview to Diplomaatia.
You are a senior communications specialist with years of experience and the head of the NATO Information and Documentation Centre in Ukraine. Among the centre’s tasks is communicating NATO’s objectives. Leading up to the July NATO Summit, there were some expectations, in Ukraine in particular, regarding the possibility of membership invitation that was never on the table in Vilnius. Was this a communications failure? How can we prevent similar misunderstandings from happening in the future?
Indeed, the NATO Information and Documentation Centre in Kyiv was established back in 1997 with the aim of informing Ukrainians about NATO’s values, goals, and objectives and increasing Ukrainians’ awareness about the NATO-Ukraine partnership and NATO’s practical support to Ukraine.
Moscow has brought death and destruction to the heart of Europe, seeking to destroy Ukraine and divide NATO. President Putin definitely made two big strategic mistakes: he totally underestimated Ukraine’s determination and NATO’s unity.
The Alliance’s main tasks are to support Ukraine’s right to self-defence and prevent escalation. That is what we are doing.
At the Vilnius Summit, Leaders reaffirmed our unwavering solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine in the heroic defence of their nation, their land, and our shared values. Furthermore, at the Summit in Vilnius, NATO set out a clear vision for Ukraine’s future, with a package consisting of three elements.
First, they shortened Ukraine’s path to NATO from two to one step, by removing the requirement for a Membership Action Plan.
Second, they agreed a programme to make Ukraine’s forces fully interoperable with NATO Allies. This is part of a major package of support, worth hundreds of millions of euros annually.
And third, they strengthened the political ties to an unprecedented level, by establishing the NATO-Ukraine Council, a body where the Alliance and Ukraine can consult and take decisions together. The new NATO Ukraine Council has already proven its worth. It is a body where Allies and Ukraine sit as equals to advance political dialogue, cooperation, and Ukraine’s aspirations for membership in NATO. It provides for joint consultations, decision-making and activities, also during crisis. The Council met for the first time in Vilnius with President Zelensky. It also met in July to consult on the serious security situation unfolding in the Black Sea. Defence Minister Rustem Umierov was in Brussels a couple of weeks ago for the first NATO-Ukraine Council at ministerial level.
I will underline that the decisions made with all NATO Allies at the Vilnius Summit are the strongest ever message on Ukraine membership that the Alliance ever made, by stating clearly that Ukraine will become a member, that Ukraine’s future is in NATO.
Have the actual positive outcomes of the Vilnius Summit been clearly communicated? What is being done to counter the Russian attempts to misinterpret it as the dwindling of support for Ukraine?
For NATO it has always been important to fill the information sphere with factual, transparent information about the Alliance’s aims and activities.
As a values-based organisation, NATO uses fact-based, credible communications to tell our story. We use the full spectrum of media engagements by the Secretary-General and other NATO officials, digital communications, face-to-face engagements, social media, and other tools to make sure that our public – as well as our adversaries – hear NATO’s story first.
I want to underline that the aim of NATO’s communications surrounding Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has been clear from the outset: to demonstrate our continuous support for Ukraine; to set the record straight on Russia’s lies; and to support the rules-based international order.
Under the long-running hashtag StandWithUkraine, we at NATO have used our digital outreach to amplify Ukrainian communications and our own messages of support. And we actively communicate all the decisions taken with respect to Ukraine.
NATO has been targeted with hostile information activities since its inception, and since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we have seen a proliferation of disinformation and hostile narratives targeted at NATO.
In July, the Vilnius Summit was indeed a prominent topic in Russian hostile communications. In Russian state media, the Summit received very negative coverage, mostly focusing on Ukraine’s membership aspirations. Narratives claimed that the Summit was solidifying its “anti-Russian course” or preparing for “direct confrontation with Russia”; they also downplayed its significance. Russian hostile content also targeted Lithuania as the host nation.
NATO runs social media accounts in the Russian language, called NATOpoRusski to reach Russian-speaking audiences wherever they are: in Russia, NATO countries and partner countries. On our social media channels, we inform the Russian-speaking audiences about NATO activities, deterrence and defence measures, and also debunk disinformation, including through our dedicated portal on the NATO website called “NATO-Russia: setting the record straight.”
Apart from that narrative, what are the other lines of Russian information attacks in Ukraine, their target audiences, and goals?
Russia’s war in Ukraine isn’t just being fought on the ground and in the air, it’s also playing out online. Russia continuously deploys false claims to justify its actions, cast Ukraine and NATO as the aggressors, and deny responsibility for the war.
We see that for some time Russian state media has been pushing the narrative that Russia is at war with the West and that it is the West that deliberately provoked a conflict in Ukraine to contain Russia. Over the last couple of months, the Kremlin has repeated sharp anti-Western rhetoric blaming the West for Ukraine’s war and portraying the West as posing an existential threat to Russia.
Russian state media also attempts to delegitimise Ukrainian leadership in response to NATO’s position that peace talks would only occur on Ukraine’s terms.
We witness Russia’s claims that Ukraine’s counter-offensive has not made any progress against Russia. It is assessed as an attempt to downplay the Western arms support for the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
To sum it up, we cannot eliminate hostile information, but we can join our efforts to build the resilience of our societies against malign narratives requires collaboration and a whole-of-society approach. It also requires education to ensure citizens are aware of the risks of disinformation and how to spot it.
The centre’s other mission is assisting the Ukrainian authorities in strategic communications. In over 600 days of the war, Ukraine gained not only combat experience but also demonstrated resilience and exceptional communication skills on all levels of government. Are there lessons that the Alliance, in turn, can learn from Ukraine?
NATO has provided a range of Strategic Communications support to Ukraine for a number of years. An important milestone in this has been the NATO-Ukraine Strategic Communications Partnership Road Map signed in 2015.
As I already indicated, we cannot eliminate hostile information, but we can help to ensure our populations are less receptive to it. That is why NATO has sponsored a number of programs in Ukraine to improve resilience through media literacy.
We are now exploring and working on how we can further support Ukraine with strategic communications capability development.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has indeed demonstrated the importance of strategic communications in shaping public perceptions. And Ukraine’s excellent public messaging has reinforced the brave defence of the country.
By the way, Ukraine is the first country that has launched an official nation branding in the midst of war – be brave like Ukraine. The slogan of the campaign Ukraine has chosen isn’t simply a catchy or appealing slogan. On the contrary, it encapsulates the very essence of Ukraine and its people. It personifies Ukraine’s unity and defiance. And the country’s remarkable resilience.
Everyone has been impressed by the strength of Ukraine’s resistance and national cohesion, and Ukraine has become a source of inspiration for many because of what it has done and continues to do. Ukraine is also demonstrating that diplomacy isn’t only about maximising the country’s national interests. It is also about conveying to the world what values it represents and would like the world shares with it, based on mutual respect and solidarity.
This article was written for ICDS Diplomaatia magazine. Views expressed in ICDS publications are those of the author(s).