Strategic communications professor adds insight on Russia-Ukraine War during commander’s summit

  • Published
  • By Amy Schiess
  • Air Force Sustainment Center

Leaders attending the Air Force Sustainment Center Commander’s Summit April 25 were given an academic perspective of wartime information dynamics courtesy of Katerina Tsetsura, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Her presentation focused on the Russia-Ukraine War, propaganda and differences in strategic communication.

Tsetsura is half Ukrainian and half Russian. She said much of the narrative being dispersed by Russia inside the country asserts, with little evidence, that the country has global support.  

“That propaganda was believed by Russians at the highest levels,” Tsetsura said. “Come Feb. 24 [the beginning of the invasion], we saw those signals expand and Ukraine saw the importance of addressing those.”

Stories of the ‘Ghost of Kyiv,’ a fighter pilot credited with shooting down several Russian jets in the Kyiv offensive, were a good illustration of an information campaign that boosted Ukrainian morale and inspired the world to fight good vs. evil, Tsetsura said. It eventually came to light that the Ghost of Kyiv was not an actual person, but an accumulation of stories of men and women withstanding the Russian forces, but the narrative made its way around the world, inspiring comic books, news stories and action figures.

She said the differences in strategic communication are significant between the West and Russia. The idea of transparent information is seen as weakness in Russia and show of force is an important aspect to gaining respect and power, she said.

While the West appreciates clarity, structure and transparency, Russia relies on strategic ambiguity in messaging, a focus on authority and a less structured order.

“For Russia, the point is to create disruption so that it creates chaos, questions and makes you think differently about the adversary,” Tsetsura said. “It is not necessarily a strategically planned outcome, but a process to achieve disruption.”

What the United States needs to focus on is dealing with that strategic ambiguity and analyzing possible reasons behind that ambiguity, she said. Tactically, using military might and economic sanctions against the Russian elite and are two of the most effective ways to address Russian aggression, she continued.

“People [in Russia] believe that Russia is fighting the U.S. in Ukraine,” Tsetsura said. “Even if you don’t believe U.S. is fighting Russia, that is what Russia believes.”

AFSC Commander Lt. Gen. Stacey Hawkins invited the professor to provide her personal insight to the summit attendees after hearing her present at an Oklahoma Aerospace and Defense Innovation Institute event at OU.

“Dr. Tsetsura’s unique perspective on strategic communication and the dynamics between Russia and Ukraine are particularly relevant to us as we operate in an environment of strategic competition,” Hawkins said. “Her keynote was a highlight of the summit and we all appreciated her insight.”