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UKRAINE WAR CLASH OF NARRATIVES
The domestic political upheaval of Ukraine that started in the winter of 2013-14 under president Yanukovych’s unexpected refusal to sign the EU Association agreements (EUAA) went beyond its control and perception and Ukraine soon found itself entangled between the clash of two power blocks of cold war vintage trying to re-establish their superiority over each other. The decision of Zelensky in leaning towards EU and NATO resulted in annexation of 161,000 sq kms of Ukraine land by the Soviets.
As an observer of the European war, I feel it is pertinent to analyse conflicting narratives of all warring factions. It is the metanarrative of Ukraine, EU, Russian and America that are crucial to understanding this conflict where Ukraine is unfortunately caught in the crossfire like trampled mud in the fight of elephants.
So, now the question arises as to why a strategic narrative to continue in war is needed by the concerned players? The recent warfare history of Taliban offensive in 2021 against USA that turned out to be an ultimate success bears a testimony to this important aspect. This eloquent example showed how a supreme power be defeated by effectively steering the public opinion.
Actually, strategic narrative is a story that explains why the war is important and why participation of people is necessary. It convinces locals to believe what all may happen to their identity if they lose the conflict. In other words, strategic narrative is misinformation, propaganda, or psychological warfare employed by opposing parties.
Therefore, can there be a formula to work out a narrative? The answer is a definite yes. Irrespective of thinking of the leaders, strategic narrative follows a familiar structure that includes four elements. First is the basic positioning to describe who we are, who are our allies and the enemy to lay out the concepts of warfare. Second point is doctrinal order to specify objectives, likely gains and motivation for either warring faction. Third in the priority comes fallacy, folk lore and stories, real or imaginary to incite participation. And lastly, it relates to action describing ways people can contribute to the efforts of war to defeat the enemy.
Initially, Ukrainian narrative was built by the people in a transparent and persuasive style so that, no citizen remained unconvinced that they have to push back Putin’s forces to survive. It indeed was a unique narrative in a society connected through social media network where all acted as one single unit with one single goal. this served the purpose of strategic narrative and kept them glued together. Though, after eight months in war, the contribution of Ukrainian leadership was laud in setting up the narrative by saying ‘after Ukraine, it could be other EU members falling to same danger’. Alas, in my opinion, it was too little too late.
On the other hand, Soviet narrative was simple, centralized and state-controlled. It was dependent upon national TV channels, scores of Internet trolls and thousands of opinion influencers on social media. The KGB style work was on the forefront. The narrative as usual, blamed the Western leaders for their expansionist policies to degrade Russia.
Contrary to the above, EU’s narrative stood divided between its political leaders supporting NATO and the younger generations and the intellectuals not willing to a war on behalf of US or the UK who remain unaffected by the happenings in the continent. A segment of their society believes that the contiguity of land with Russia be respected and all sanctions lifted to ease energy flow from Russia for economic growth of Europe.
Now, 15 months into war, the United States is at the centre of an extraordinary campaign to foil kremlin, with a broader narrative of balancing democratic values against authoritarian hegemony. It wants to protect the international order established after WW II in Europe. And therefore, America has supported Ukraine with over 30-billion-dollar aid to fight Soviets on their behalf. Narrative of Washington appears to be to make someone else bleed and suffer fighting American cause at dirt cheap expanses.
With so many meta narratives running parallel, Ukraine’s own narrative about its right to survival and sovereignty got shrouded. This constrained Ukraine’s ability to act. The fact remains that neither a focus solely on Ukrainian domestic choices, nor on Russia Vs West geopolitics will resolve the conflict. Unless peace brokering is done in a win-win to both warring factions, there is little hope of Ukraine avoiding this conflict in near future, let alone exercise choices about its future..
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL
COL ANUPAM JAITLY (R) The writer is defence expert, motivational speaker and corporate trainer