- - Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The most effective support for Ukraine may be to help it conduct information warfare against the Russian army, which can weaken its combat capability and lead to its collapse.

Critics of U.S. support for Ukraine say it only prolongs a senseless war Ukraine cannot win. They cite an advantage in firepower and manpower that ensures Russian victory. But these problems can be solved by Ukraine, which has a reserve of more than a million troops, and the West, by providing Ukraine with superior weapons.

Those same critics overlook the problems with the Russian army, such as its lack of quality commanders, the professionalism of its soldiers and its low morale.

The Ukrainian army has an advantage over the Russian one because it has strong morale and a clear purpose — fighting for their freedom, independence, land, families and homes. Russian soldiers do not know what they are fighting for. The goals of this war were vague from the very beginning and change every day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ideology is nothing but the dead cat bounce of Soviet communism. The Soviet army lost the war in Afghanistan because Soviet communism was already on its last legs then. What to say when it is already dead.

Propaganda still manages to hammer it into the heads of Russians, cutting off from the truth about the war. But that propaganda cannot stand the brutality of this war. It is difficult for soldiers inside Ukraine to believe in Moscow fairy tales.

They do not see NATO armies threatening Russia or Ukrainian Nazis committing genocide. 

They hardly feel like liberators, but rather like occupiers, and they see Russian troops killing and raping Ukrainian women and children. And all that on the orders of their commanders whose orders come directly from the Kremlin.

Patriotism can be widespread in Russia when it costs nothing or even benefits some. The Russian army has no reason for this war, no conscious goal. 

The above considerations are fully confirmed by direct evidence from the battlefront. There are numerous cases of Russian soldiers disobeying orders; mass surrenders; self-inflicted wounds; skirmishes between ethnic groups within the Russian army. Some Russian soldiers went over to the Ukrainian army. 

Mr. Putin faces the problem of replenishing the army. Many professional soldiers refuse to sign new contracts, and some are breaking the existing ones.

Many Russian troops are looking for any excuse to avoid this war, and low morale is springing from defeats and heavy losses. America’s task remains to supply modern offensive weapons to Ukraine. This process can be forced by accurately reporting the senselessness of the deaths and injuries of Russian soldiers.

In the early days of the war, as an old dissident who fought all his life for Russian freedom, I issued an appeal to Russian soldiers and officers and said they were fighting on the wrong side. 

That this is not a war of Russia against Ukraine, but of tyranny against freedom. I urged them to switch sides and fight for the freedom of Ukraine. 

Weak morale is the Achilles’ heel of the Russian army, and it is necessary to deploy a psychological war in the Russian ranks. They need a program that would dispatch arguments and facts to Russian troops, showing the depravity and absurdity of this war.

Such a program should consist of content and delivery of information. As a dissident, I often addressed the Russian people, finding the right words that could resonate with them. Later, as head of the Center for Democracy in the Soviet Union, I developed methods for disseminating our information in a society where free speech was controlled by the authorities.

In terms of content, it is important to provide both truthful information about what is happening in Ukraine and appeal to the conscience of the Russian military with arguments about the criminality, danger and senselessness of this war. 

It is also important to understand the fears and doubts of Russian soldiers and officers. It is important to address the Russian military with the right words and involve people they know. Talented Russian journalists from opposition publications can help with this.

Regarding the delivery of information, it is possible to combine new technical methods with traditional ones, such as dropping leaflets using drones. This program should be carried out with the Ukrainian army, which would provide intelligence logistics.

America can help with funding, technical expertise and technology, as well as by sharing its experience of psychological warfare. The funding for this program will be a small amount. 

In an ideological war, the informational component is just as important as the combat one. To win the war, Ukraine needs to win these battles. Ukraine has already won two decisive victories. 

Russia has lost its propaganda war. Mr. Putin has also nearly exhausted his second major weapon: bluff and nuclear blackmail. Few people fall for this.

Russia’s main weapon remains its army, which is more numerous and better armed, but less professional and less motivated. If Ukraine carries out a psychological operation inside this army, its morale may drop and fall apart. The collapse of the Russian army would be the fastest and most bloodless end to this senseless war.

This is not so fantastic proposition. Of course, this requires ongoing victories of Ukraine and waging information warfare within the Russian army. But even if such an ideal result is not achieved and the Russian army does not completely disintegrate, the success of such an operation will make it weaker, which will help Ukraine win earlier and with fewer losses.

• Yuri Yarim-Agaev is a scientist and human rights activist and was a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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