Pro-Kremlin Propaganda’s Failure in Ukraine: Evidence and Lessons Learned | New Voices on Eurasia with Aaron Erlich
Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, how susceptible were Ukrainians to pro-Kremlin disinformation? Were certain groups of Ukrainians, such as those who relied on Russian state media for news, more susceptible? Drawing on original research and the work of others, Professor Aaron Erlich provides evidence that Ukrainians have proved quite capable of distinguishing the false narratives propagated by pro-Kremlin disinformation from accurate news. Erlich argues that widespread loyalties to Ukraine combined with recent institutional reforms have contributed to these capabilities. Moreover, Ukrainians with a propensity for critical thinking were particularly resistant to disinformation, suggesting that behavioral “nudges” to induce citizens to think more critically may help fight Russian propaganda. Although Russian language media enjoyed a large Ukrainian audience until recently, the evidence indicates that concerns about Ukrainians’ susceptibility to pro-Kremlin propaganda were overstated and misplaced. The far bigger problem has been the pro-Kremlin media’s influence on its domestic audience, as Russians have proven highly receptive to the media’s false narratives. These findings underline the importance of learning from what Ukraine did well in countering disinformation and regularly surveying populations targeted by sustained disinformation campaigns about their belief in disinformation.
Aaron Erlich is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at McGill University, where he is affiliated with The Centre for Democratic Citizenship and The Centre on Population Dynamics. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington – Seattle in 2016. Prior to academia, he worked for the NGO sector in the Caucasus and Kenya. Professor Erlich’s research addresses how information shapes political behavior, focusing on emerging democracies. He is also interested in advancing quantitative methods to measure the effect of information. Professor Erlich has conducted many large-scale studies in Eastern Europe, sub- Saharan Africa, and North America. Recently, he has published several articles on Ukrainian public opinion, along with commentary in The Washington Post, War on the Rocks, and La Presse+, among others. His academic work has appeared in many social science journals, including the American Political Science Review, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Politics, Political Science Research and Methods, and Political Analysis.