Ukraine

Russia v Ukraine: Who is winning the propaganda war?

Watch: Communications expert gives his verdict on the Ukraine-Russia propaganda war.

As Russia's offensive against Ukraine continues, the online fight for hearts and minds remains a key battleground.

Ukraine is reliant on international support, with recent pledges of billions of pounds in military aid – including armoured vehicles, and air defence systems – vital for its defence. 

Forces News has spoken to Dr Colin Alexander, a senior lecturer in political communications, at Nottingham Trent University, who has given his verdict on who is winning the propaganda war. 

Dr Alexander said: "Russia has been interestingly poor at a lot of what's happened in the last year and Ukraine has been spectacularly good... (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky himself has really been a very smooth performer.

"Russia hasn't really done anything in order to endear itself to anyone."

Image ID 2JDWP4W Vladimir Putin and Russia flag 230622 EXP 041123 CREDIT JHG, Alamy Stock Photo
The former prime minister Boris Johnson recently compared President Putin to 'the fat boy in Dickens' (Picture: JHG, Alamy Stock Photo).

Dr Alexander said before the war, Ukraine was a heavily agricultural country that much of the world knew little about and perhaps was most famous for the Chernobyl disaster

Whereas now it has put itself firmly on the map and the general public has "learnt a lot about Ukraine in the last year and much of that has been positive stuff".

"Ukraine has performed, from a communications point of view, exceptionally well and Russia has been surprisingly poor in terms of the aesthetics of the communication."

Dr Alexander attributes much of the country's success to Mr Zelensky and his team. 

President Zelensky is a powerful communicator, "even down to the symbology of how he acts" and "his non-verbal communication".

For example, he says he is "often seen in that dark green t-shirt which would say that he's not a combatant".

"So he's not wearing a military uniform, however, he is in military mode.

"He is sympathetic to the military but he is also indicating a sense of loyalty and a sense that this is a crisis and is not regular politics."

Image ID 2M4K946 US President Joe Biden walks with Ukraine President Zelensky before meeting in the Oval Office 21122022 CREDIT Newscom,Alamy Live News
Ukrainian President Zelensky was hosted by US President Biden in Washington, for his first known trip out of his country since Russia invaded (Picture: Newscom/ Alamy Live News).

In an age when most of the world is on some form of social media, Ukraine has effectively managed to communicate its message and receive empathy for its plight. 

This compares to Russia, which struggles to have much of an international presence as a lot of pro-Russian sources come with warnings as to their accuracy or are blocked. 

Dr Alexander believes "Russia has come to accept its place in the world as being relatively isolated, it seems to have become comfortable with that.

"It is self-imposed. It used to be the G8 and now it's the G7 as Russia removed itself."

However, its exiled status has a benefit: "Russia has done certain things that have isolated itself and, in some ways, that has allowed the Russian state to drive the propaganda narrative of 'us versus them', a polarisation narrative but that's ultimately part of what they are trying to achieve here.

"They drive a sense of Russian nationalism by a narrative of the world against Russia and therefore we have to unite."

This message, Dr Alexander says, "can lead to a void, perhaps, in people's moral consciousness as to why certain things should or shouldn't happen".