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INTERVIEW | Ukraine Advisor Says 'Russian Propaganda Aims for the World to Abandon Ukraine' 

Yuriy Sak, advisor to the Ukraine Ministry of Strategic Industries, discusses what it takes to win Russia's war against his country in an exclusive interview.



Yuriy Sak, Advisor to the Ukraine Ministry of Strategic Industries, on February 18. (© Sankei by Mizuki Okada)

The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward sat down with Yuriy Sak, advisor to the Ministry of Strategic Industries of Ukraine, on February 18. Sak was in Tokyo for the Japan-Ukraine Conference for Promotion of Economic Growth and Construction. In an exclusive interview the day before the conference, Sak discusses the situation in Ukraine today. 

The war Russia is waging against his country is now entering its third year. Sak also comments on what the war means for Japan. Excerpts follow.

First of two parts.

The Toll of Two Years of War

Russia's aggression against Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, two years ago. Some say that people in the United States and Europe are exhausted from supporting Ukraine. Do you see changes in Western support?

We have to understand that Russia is fighting this aggressive war on two fronts: the actual war and the information war. When it comes to the information war, Russian propaganda is based on a narrative that Ukraine as a country never existed and doesn't have a right to exist. Russian propaganda wants the whole world to believe that Ukrainian people are part of the Russian people. This is a false version of history. Moreover, the leader of Russia, [Vladimir] Putin repeats this false narrative every time he gives an interview. 

The second major premise of Russian propaganda is that Ukraine now is a neo-Nazi state. When Russia began this aggressive war, Russia wanted the whole world to think that Ukrainians are neo-Nazis who go around Ukraine and kill Russian-speaking people. That is entirely false. We are not Nazis. 

Yuriy Sak (© Sankei by Mizuki Okada)
Yuriy Sak, Advisor to the Ukraine Ministry of Strategic Industries. (© Sankei by Mizuki Okada)

What is the war like?

The fact is that Ukraine was attacked by Russia. Anyone who was in Ukraine [before that] knows that we are a peaceful country. We never fought with our neighbors, such as Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. Russia amplifies its propaganda daily trying to convince the world that Ukraine can never win this war. 

[Ukraine] never had any territorial ambitions. We have always lived our lives by developing trade relations.

What can be done to counter Russian propaganda?

The best way to deal with Russian propaganda is to prove it wrong by actions. We have already shown this to the whole world. For a while [the world] believed the Russian propaganda and thought that Ukraine could not win this war. [Some] were confident that Ukraine would fall within 3 to 7 days. But [the reality] was different from their predictions. 


When the large-scale invasion began, our President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was on national television and the internet every night and day. He would say, "We have survived one more day." People in Ukraine celebrated victory every single night during the first week. We were like "Hey! We're still standing!" Perhaps in some ways [we were] scared but when we reached one week, the country, all of us, we knew that we could fight. 

The whole Ukrainian nation came together and proved that the Russian narrative that says Ukraine can never win is wrong. 

Our partners saw this and noticed. "Okay. Ukrainians are not collapsing. They are not giving up. They're fighting." And the world thought "We cannot just stand and watch that. Ukraine is fighting for our shared values." That was when we started receiving weapons.

Members of the Siberian Battalion of the Ukraine's Armed Forces International Legion at an undisclosed location in the Kyiv region on December 13, 2023. (©REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko)

What kind of support did you receive?

At first, small weapons anti-tank, javelins, stingers, and the like, small handheld units. Those helped us repel the enemy from Kyiv. And they helped us destroy [Russian] tanks and armored vehicles. 

We knew at the beginning of the war, that we had enough weapons for one month. And we knew that if we didn't secure more support, it would be almost impossible to continue the fight. So, this is why former Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov and the President began asking our partners for weapons. And little by little, first stingers, then 155mm cannons, and triple 7s from the Americans. 

Then we started asking fast forward for HIMARS systems. Next, we asked for tanks, and air defense systems like Patriot [missiles]. And then for F-16 [fighter jets]. The thing that we are missing is enough long-range missiles.

Ukraine has been supported by its "allies" from the very first day. Russia was hoping that the world would ignore this war and would not send Ukraine weapons. It was hoping that the world would turn away and just let Russia destroy Ukraine in its present form. If that had happened, perhaps there would be no independent Ukraine.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Then they annexed parts of the Donbas and Lugansk regions. And then illegally in 2022, they annexed parts of Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia region. Russia cannot live with the fact that Ukraine is an independent.

Ukraine is a country with more than a thousand years of history and culture. Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine existed long before Moscow was even created. This is a historical fact. If you look at early maps, you can find Kyiv but not Moscow because it was forests and swamps.


Russia's Disinformation War

Is Russia trying to create doubt and convince the world to abandon Ukraine?

Yes, but this has not happened and we are very thankful to our partner countries for that. 

However, because of pro-Russian people like Tucker Carlson, an American political commentator [formerly] of Fox News, there is some hesitation. [Carlson] interviewed [President] Putin [on February 8]. The interview was watched by 200 million people on X (formerly Twitter). Another couple of hundred million watched on YouTube. Related to that, an American congressman said, "Maybe we should think more about whether we give [aid] to Ukraine." 

Russia has been investing billions of US dollars in its propaganda machine for decades. They have their mouthpiece people in every part of the world, including Japan, Australia, Germany, Hungary, France, New York, Washington, and everywhere. 

Part of our work is liaising with our partners and counterparts in different countries where we exchange our experiences. We talk to our partners in the US, Australia, and New Zealand. And we are trying to help each other fight against Russian propaganda. 

We are confident that we will win the information war as well as the ground war. The only efficient weapon against propaganda is truth, based on facts. Truth is like a train ー it goes through any wall of propaganda and the propaganda falls apart.

Do you have any examples of how Russia spreads its narrative?

On a smaller level, Russia spreads tactical disinformation every day aimed at disrupting the unity of the Ukrainian people. For instance, for a long time, they said, "There is a lot of disagreement between Ukrainian President and Ukrainian commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi. That's why Ukraine cannot fight because they fight with each other." 

We are also trying to close YouTube and Telegram channels where we identify Russian propaganda. But it's difficult because these are growing like mushrooms.

Is the Kremlin trying to break apart Ukrainian society to weaken its leadership and military power?

Yes. For example, there is a ski resort called Bukovel in western Ukraine, which is quite popular. Of course right now, because of the war and its related economic hardships, ordinary Ukrainians can hardly travel. But, while people are trying to survive every single day, they need to have somewhere they can go for at least a couple of days with their families to recharge their batteries and rest, like this ski resort. 


When the winter season began, Russia started a disinformation campaign saying, "If you go[there] you will be grabbed by the military and sent to the front to fight against Russia." 

The ski resort is privately managed so they investigated and figured out who was spreading this narrative. They identified that the narrative originated from Russian Telegram channels. [Then they] informed the central government which issued a statement announcing "This is not true." 

Fighting propaganda is done both by the central government and ordinary grassroots people. [Ukrainians] understand that information is an efficient weapon of mass destruction that affects millions of people more than real weapons.

Who are the actors in the Russian propaganda campaign? The Russian government, Russian media, or other groups?

You must understand that there is no Russian free media. There is only the Kremlin and its propaganda. Whatever media entities call themselves, they are just tools of the Kremlin's propaganda. They just tell people what they are ordered to do by the Kremlin. [They are being used] to justify aggression against Ukraine and going forward with the war in the long term. 

Our neighboring countries like Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, know very well that if something bad happens in Ukraine, the Baltic states are next. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This is the reason why they are strongly supporting Ukraine and increasing their defense budgets right now. They are investing and acquiring new weapons to build defense lines.

What is it like living in Ukraine now?

There are air raid sirens in Ukraine frequently these days. Ukraine is at war right now and there is a potential threat of spillover to other countries. 

That means not only our neighboring countries but also the Indo-Pacific region. If you look at a map of the world right now, what could happen in Taiwan would be of really big importance to Japan. We are living in a very dangerous moment in the history of mankind. 

Continues in:



Author: Mizuki Okada

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