The end of the cold war brought about a fragile calm that has wrapped itself around east -west relations for over 25 years but now war has returned, a war over land, culture, identity and megalomanic endeavor. This war however will be like no other before it, it will play out on social media online platforms, and mobile phones across the world. Propaganda, loaded messaging, and state sponsored communication, will now also give way to user generated content, peer to peer conversations and Voice and video over IP technologies that will allow for this war to play out on mobile phones and screens across the globe. Most importantly images of war will now be shared in real time by real victims via SMS YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
The communications strategies emanating out of the war zone are remarkably different by design. Out of one of the worlds superpowers comes old school war briefings and the Kremlin continues to engage state broadcasters to disseminate state sponsored messages, shutting down access to foreign media, social media, or peaceful protest. The Kremlin has lurched back in time and filled the National football stadium with supporters of Putin’s war in scenes not too dissimilar to the Nuremburg rallies, exacerbating the naivety that is born out of lack of knowledge and thrives in an environment of nationalist global ignorance.
In contrast the Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a modern, innovative premier, embracing a multitude of platforms to share with the world the horrors of war. Zelenskyy has gone even further and integrated mobile applications and social media platforms such as telegram to communicate with his frontline Generals and Civil leaders, and in so doing keep his location, planning and strategy agile, flexible and secret. Proving himself a modern popular leader with the support of his nation and the world has been made possible using mobile technology. President Zelenskyy has taken selfies in front of bombed buildings, filmed addresses to the world on his mobile phone whilst donning a bullet proof vest and blogged from hospitals housing injured soldiers. He has demonstrated courage in the face of massive adversity, a courage which is proving contagious amongst the Ukrainian people who refuse to give up and surrender. Without mobile phones whether this courage and commitment would be as effectively shared is debatable.
Rallying the people and securing support for continued resistance is of paramount importance when engaging in any conflict but keeping people safe when missiles and bombs are indiscriminately being fired by a hostile nation intent on your destruction is quite something else. Bulk Text messaging is being used to communicate efficiently with entire towns, to warn of incoming missiles, share details of humanitarian convoys, and notify displaced refugees of where they can get support. It is also a platform popular with families desperate to stay in touch with loved ones trapped in the war zone where information is scarce and often unreliable.
Times have changed but the challenges of war stay the same, and yet a global superpower is being thwarted in its attempt to invade a peaceful neighbor. Militarily Ukraine is no match for Russia and the Kremlins assumption that wars are won and lost on military strength and outdated communications may just prove to be its undoing.
We should never discount or underestimate the courage, pride and resilience of the Ukrainian people who are bearing the brunt of this horrendous act of aggression and who live each minute in constant fear for themselves and their loved ones. We should respect the innovative way in which they are adapting and responding to war with all the tools at their disposal, from homemade Molotov cocktails to telegram and twitter. To secure their sovereignty the people of Ukraine are under no illusions, they will need to fight, they will need to take up arms, fire rifles and lay mines, but they will also smartly and quietly be embracing new and modern mobile technology to stay one step ahead of the enemy.