Putin’s War on Information Is Far From Over

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The info war has also reached Asia, Africa and South America, where Russia has mobilized diplomats and state-controlled media like the global RT network to press its case. The goal isn’t necessarily to win support, but to keep unaligned countries on the sidelines. While some countries, most notably China, have taken Russia’s side, others, like India, have avoided antagonizing Russia so as not to lose Russian military or energy contracts.

Many others have done so simply because they know and care little about Ukraine. Russia’s line to them is that it is fighting to prevent the United States from creating a unipolar world that would swallow their country, with no one to support their interests. The strategy evoked memories of the assistance the Soviet Union gave to Vietnam, Angola and other postcolonial independence movements.

The United States has mounted its own diplomatic efforts to gain more support from countries like India and South Africa. And Ukraine recently posted a video on Twitter recently in which the commander of Ukrainian armed forces thanks 37 countries that, according to the tweet, have shown “assistance and unwavering support in these hard times.” The list is not entirely fair — some Asian countries missing from the list have provided nonlethal assistance — but it is still noteworthy that there were no entries from Africa or South America.

As the war rages on, attention in the United States and elsewhere is bound to flag, and questions about the impact of the war on energy and food prices worldwide are bound to intensify. A speech by Mr. Biden on Tuesday on the need to support Ukraine was lost in the brouhaha over the leak of a Supreme Court draft ruling. And the $33 billion he is seeking in military assistance and other aid for Ukraine is certain to meet resistance, especially since there is no idea when or how the war might end.

Dwindling Western commitment is part of Mr. Putin’s calculus. Though he seems to have misjudged the West’s fury and response to his invasion, his 22 years of increasingly autocratic rule have taught him that passions invariably wane and high costs erode commitment.

As a former K.G.B. agent, Mr. Putin sees the world as a battleground of conspiratorial maneuvers. In his speeches, the color revolutions in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics and the Arab Spring and other global upheavals are machinations to bolster American domination. As an heir to the Soviet worldview, he believes more than many Western leaders do in the importance of information warfare, both to give his regime a veneer of legitimacy and to challenge liberal democracy. On this battlefield, lies are ammunition in Mr. Putin’s long and increasingly personal struggle to stay in power.

As the war enters a new phase, as the images and horrors become familiar and the costs rise, it will become ever more difficult for the Biden administration and for Mr. Zelensky to sustain their early lead in the information war. That makes it all the more imperative for the West to press the message that this is not a war Ukraine chose and that the cost of allowing Mr. Putin to have his way in Ukraine would be far higher than the sacrifices required to block him.


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