What is the information picture around the special operation in Ukraine? Commentary by Georgy Bovt

Kiev’s translation of the information agenda in favor of coverage of humanitarian issues and victims among the civilian population, and before the investigation by independent parties, may tip the scales in the direction of sanctions, says political scientist

George Bovt. Photo: Mikhail Fomichev / TASS

Ukrainian authorities have reported civilian casualties in the town of Bucha near Kyiv, which has been redeployed by Russian troops. The President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky invited Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy to come to Bucha to see “what 14 years of Russia’s concessions lead to.” London called for an investigation into the events near Kiev, and Berlin condemned them and promised to discuss new sanctions against Moscow with Western countries. EU President Charles Michel also condemned and called for sanctions. Russia’s Defense Ministry, in turn, has denied allegations of killing civilians in Bucha, calling them another provocation.

This past weekend, the information picture surrounding the “special operation” has deteriorated even more, making it difficult to hold further talks between the parties, including in video format. Although earlier the head of the Russian delegation Vladimir Medinsky spoke about the possibility of resuming them on April 4. There was no confirmation from the Ukrainian side on the eve.

Kyiv, which is now focusing on possible war crimes, in particular in the settlements of Bucha and Irpen, in which it unequivocally accuses the Russian military of any objective investigations, has launched an information offensive, hoping for a sharp increase in EU sanctions. This is confirmed by calls by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba to disable SWIFT for all Russian banks, adding a complete maritime and trade blockade, as well as an appeal to an international tribunal. Thus, Kyiv is trying to offset the effect of the statements made last week by the Russian Ministry of Defense about such steps to de-escalate as a reduction in military activity in the Kiev and Chernihiv areas. At the same time, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called the images of alleged killings of civilians in the Kiev region “breathtaking”, but did not use harsher expressions and, in particular, avoided the use of the word “genocide”.

All this is objectively a bad background for negotiations. Obviously, we should expect an even more detailed information response from Russia, including a response to the demands of the EU countries to conduct an objective investigation, as information warfare is an integral part of the current confrontation, which is actually online. And this is a unique case in history.

As for the Europeans, they continue to digest the consequences of Vladimir Putin’s decree on the transfer of payments for gas in rubles. And although the currency of payment remains the same – euros or dollars – buyers will be required to open ruble accounts in the authorized Gazprombank and give instructions to transfer funds from them to “Gazprom” after the currency conversion. There may be problems with this. So far, only three countries have unequivocally confirmed their readiness to pay in rubles – Slovakia, Bulgaria and Moldova, while three Baltic countries have unequivocally refused, and gas is no longer supplied there.

Technologically, the moment of payment for April deliveries will come in early May. Meanwhile, deliveries continue. Perhaps the Europeans are just wasting time, weighing their strengths and replenishing supplies for the first time after disconnecting from the “pipe”. By May, the heating season will be over, and the shock will not be so sharp. At the moment, it is impossible to deny the possibility of a complete abandonment of Russian imports in a month of a number of importing countries, especially against the background of such a dramatic information picture in the world media. Thus, the head of the German Ministry of Defense has already called for discussing the possibility of banning the import of Russian gas.

So far, it is clear that from other sources it is relatively easy, albeit expensive, to replace about 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Gazprom’s 150 billion. However, according to Bloomberg, it will still take several years. In particular, it will be necessary to build terminals for LNG reception and accelerate the introduction of renewable energy generation capacity. And at the same time go for colossal additional costs, despite the fact that the growth of raw material prices has already reached 46% over the last year. The same “green” energy will require at least 52 million tons of steel alone, the smelting of which involves huge energy costs. It will also require much more copper and aluminum. Overall, infrastructure spending will increase by 20% in the EU.

All this is objectively not conducive to severing all ties with Moscow, especially in the energy sphere, right now. However, the transfer of Kiev’s information agenda in favor of large-scale coverage and discussion of humanitarian issues and civilian casualties, and to any objective investigations by third, independent parties, may tip the scales in the direction of much tougher sanctions against all reasonable economic situations.

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