Media and the Ukraine Crisis

Hybrid Media Practices and Narratives of Conflict

by Mervi Pantti (Volume editor)
©2016 Textbook XXIV, 193 Pages
Series: Global Crises and the Media, Volume 21


How are media and communications transforming armed conflicts? How are conflicts made visible in the media in different national and transnational settings? How does the media serve as a means by which
various actors manage and communicate conflict?
These are some of the questions addressed in this book. Using a variety of disciplinary perspectives and analytical approaches, contributors discuss the complex, multi-level Ukraine conflict as it is imagined and enacted in and through various media. Covering a wide range of media forms and content, including television news, newspapers, PR campaigns, and social media content, they offer new, empirically grounded insight into the ways in which traditional mass media and new media forms are involved in narrating and shaping conflict.
This book is suitable for students of conflict and media courses in journalism, media and communication, politics, security, and Russian and Eastern European studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editor
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • The Ukraine Conflict and the Media: An Introduction
  • Part One: Hybrid Media War
  • Chapter One: From Nation Branding to Information Warfare: The Management of Information in the Ukraine–Russia Conflict
  • Chapter Two: Open Source Warfare: The Role of User-Generated Content in the Ukrainian Conflict Media Strategy
  • Chapter Three: Citizens’ Right to Look: Repurposing Amateur Images in the Ukraine Conflict
  • Chapter Four: The Rhetoric of (Un)Laughter in the Russian-Language Geopolitical Debates on the Ukrainian Crisis
  • Chapter Five: European Integration as Imagined by Ukrainian Pravda’s Bloggers
  • Part Two: Media Narratives of the Ukraine Conflict
  • Chapter Six: Mediatised Warfare in Russia: Framing the Annexation of Crimea
  • Chapter Seven: Global Online News from a Russian Viewpoint: RT and the Conflict in Ukraine
  • Chapter Eight: Strategic Narratives of the Ukraine Conflict Projected for Domestic and International Audiences by Russian TV Channels
  • Chapter Nine: Popular Geopolitics in the Shadow of Russia: The Ukraine Conflict in Finnish and Estonian Newspaper Editorials
  • Chapter Ten: Media Diplomacy and the Coverage of the Ukrainian Conflict in German, Polish and Russian Magazines
  • Chapter Eleven: Crisis Talks: The Framing of the Ukraine Crisis on German Talk Show Debates
  • Contributors
  • Series Index


We live in a global age. We inhabit a world that has become radically interconnected, interdependent and communicated in the formations and flows of the media. This same world also spawns proliferating, often interpenetrating, “global crises.”

From climate change to the war on terror, financial meltdowns to forced migrations, energy shortages to world poverty and humanitarian disasters to the denial of human rights, these and other crises represent the dark side of our globalized planet. Their origins and outcomes are not confined behind national borders and they are not best conceived through national prisms of understanding. The impacts of global crises often register across “sovereign” national territories, surrounding regions and beyond, and they can also become subject to systems of governance and forms of civil society response that are no less encompassing or transnational in scope. In today’s interdependent world, global crises cannot be regarded as exceptional or aberrant events only, erupting without rhyme or reason or dislocated from the contemporary world (dis)order. They are endemic to the contemporary global world, deeply enmeshed within it. And so too are they highly dependent on the world’s media and communication networks.

The series Global Crises and the Media sets out to examine not only the media’s role in the communication of global threats and crises but also how they can variously enter into their constitution, enacting them on the public stage and helping to shape their future trajectory around the world. More specifically, the volumes in this series seek to (a) contextualize the study of global crisis reporting and representations in relation to wider debates about the changing flows and formations of world media ← vii | viii → communication; (b) address how global crises become variously communicated and contested in both so-called old and new media around the world; (c) consider the possible impacts of global crisis reporting on public awareness, political action and policy responses; (d) showcase the very latest research findings and discussion from leading authorities in their respective fields of inquiry; and (e) contribute to the development of positions of theory and debate that deliberately move beyond national parochialisms and/or geographically disaggregated research agendas. In these ways, the specially commissioned books in the Global Crises and the Media series aim to provide a sophisticated and empirically engaged understanding of the media’s changing roles in global crises and thereby contribute to academic and public debate about some of the most significant global threats, conflicts and contentions in the world today.

In November 2013 the world witnessed the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the Balkan wars in the early 1990s. In the face of Russian pressure the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, suspended talks aimed at securing a political and economic trade deal with the European Union, prompting mass protests across parts of Ukraine. Over 70% of the population speaks Ukrainian, though Russian is the mother tongue of many living in the eastern part of the country. The situation quickly descended into serious violence when a gunfight broke out between police and protestors in Maidan Square in Kyiv, killing dozens of people. In the face of mass opposition, the Ukrainian president was forced to leave Kyiv, and as the situation became increasingly polarized between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions, President Vladimir Putin sent in Russian troops wearing unmarked uniforms into the Crimea. This was soon annexed following a controversial referendum and as the country descended into escalating violence and bloody civil war. The world looked on as scenes of violence, deepening enmity and human destruction filled the screens and reports of the world’s media, scenes that many had hoped would never be seen in Europe again. Echoes of the Cold War underpinned by geo-political statecraft, hegemonic power and the cynical production of propaganda all came to the fore.

The news media have, of course, long occupied a key terrain on which the battle for hearts and minds and propaganda war is fought, and this has been extensively documented. But the media’s relationship to the social organization of violence that we commonly call “war” continues to develop and change. Increasingly, the news media not only communicate or mediate the events of war but enter into its very constitution, shaping its course and conduct. In this sense, war becomes mediatized. It is often observed that in war, the news media can form a “front” in their own right, but in mediatized war, this becomes even more pronounced. Here the news media constitute a battleground of images and information, spectacle and spin constructed and communicated for home and global consumption. It is here too that relations of communication power traditionally transacted among governments, military, publics and media begin to shift. ← viii | ix →

Media and the Ukraine Crisis: Hybrid Media Practices and Narratives of Conflict, edited by Mervi Pantti, offers us an excellent opportunity to reflect on and deepen our understanding of the complex ways in which today’s media and communication ecology enter into contemporary conflicts. Notwithstanding the state power plays evident in the Ukrainian conflict and redolent perhaps of an earlier Cold War period, the surrounding terrain of media and communications has in fact moved on. New information technologies and evolving hybrid media (both “old” and “new” in dynamic interaction and increasing imbrication), argues Pantti, have reshaped both the conduct and space of modern wars. This has served to increase the range of views, voices and vantage points informing the narratives of conflict and their contending frames and counterframes.

This instructive volume based on the original research of its contributors provides its own vantage point from which to better appraise the multiple and complex ways in which media and communications represented and entered into the Ukrainian conflict. Moreover, the questions that are posed and pursued have relevance not only for the Ukrainian conflict but the changing nature of war reporting globally. As Pantti astutely asks in her introduction, and invites us all to consider, “What does ‘information war,’ ‘media propaganda’ or ‘media diplomacy’ mean in the contemporary digital media environment? How are traditional mass media and new media forms and technologies involved in information war? How do media serve as means by which various actors manage and communicate a conflict? What kinds of knowledge and understanding do the narratives and framings of conflict provide their audiences?” The different studies and research insights offered by the contributing scholars to this timely volume help provide answers to these crucial questions and by so doing open up a new and necessary vantage point on the play of communication power in the Ukrainian conflict and in respect of today’s fast-changing communication environment. I recommend it to you. ← ix | x → ← x | xi →

It is perhaps not too much of an overstatement to describe the ongoing Ukraine conflict as one of the most startling shocks in Europe since the Cold War ended in 1989. The annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the ensuing conflict in Eastern Ukraine brought back ominous memories of contested geopolitical spheres of influence and military aggression, which had been thought a thing of the past in Europe. The seizure of sovereign land was a breach of international law and was followed by a series of economic sanctions against Russia by the European Union and the United States, as well as Russia’s expulsion from the Group of 7 (G7). Unsurprisingly, the Ukraine conflict has raised public fears about entering a new Cold War and further insecurity and instability in Europe.

In humanitarian terms, the Ukraine conflict has become the costliest tragedy that Europe has witnessed since the wars in the former Yugoslavia (1991–1999). Over 1.6 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, over 9,000 killed, over 20,000 wounded, while 5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, especially in Eastern Ukraine (European Commission, 2016). Some episodes of the Ukraine conflict, such as the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by a missile, turned it into a global event, involving parties and victims from several countries, the Netherlands suffering the greatest loss of life.

The conflict has complex roots in Ukraine’s internal post-Soviet developments, characterised by a corrupt regime, the suppression of civil and political rights and a dire socioeconomic situation (Düvell & Lapshyna, 2015), the grievances which fuelled and were voiced in the Euromaidan protests in late November 2013 when ← xi | xii → pro-Western protesters took to the streets in Kyiv. In addition to its local dynamics, there are also other deep roots due to the clash of differing geopolitical interests with NATO and the European Union (EU) expansion into former Soviet space, along with Russian attempts to maintain its standing in global affairs and assert control over the region. The conflict also has major international dimensions, involving various state and nonstate actors, either purposefully or unavoidably.

The conflict is generally understood to have begun when former President Viktor Yanukovych declined to sign an association agreement with the EU that would have paved the way for Ukraine’s integration into the Western community. Instead, it was announced that Ukraine would join the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union. Widespread anger over Yanukovych’s actions resulted in the eruption of protests in Kyiv. The Euromaidan protests were devotedly supported by prominent journalists and bloggers who used social networks to rally protesters. New Internet TV channels such as hromadske.tv used mobile devices to live-stream the violent suppression of Euromaidan to viewers and, initially, even the major oligarch-owned nationwide television channels, Inter, 1+1, STB, ICTV and Ukrayina, provided extensive coverage, depicting and condemning the police brutality (Szostek, 2014). The street protests led to Yanukovych fleeing Ukraine, and prolonged internal turmoil ensued. The interim government promised to renew efforts to make Ukraine a member of the EU and, in response, Russia annexed Crimea and began supporting an armed insurgence in the eastern part of Ukraine. The appearance of the term “Novorossiya” (“New Russia”) in Putin’s political lexicon (Pomerantsev, 2014), referring to historically Russian territories in eastern Ukraine, raised fears, especially in the Baltic states, that these Novorossiya fantasies might extend to other Eastern European countries with Russian-speaking minorities.

The “Ukraine conflict,” as it is called here, refers to the ongoing international geopolitical struggle, armed conflict and humanitarian crisis, which have had vast regional and global repercussions. As Mary Kaldor (2001) argued, taking into account the global context—global economic interdependency, global cultural interconnectedness and the dependence of conflicts on transnational networks for mobilising support—is crucial if we are to understand the logics and practices of what she called “new wars.”

The relationship between media and war has received much scholarly attention, and several recent studies concern the relationship between the digital media environment and the changing nature of armed conflicts and wars (e.g., Cottle, 2008; Hoskins & O’Loughlin, 2010; Kampf & Liebes, 2013; Nohrstedt & Ottosen, 2014). With the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict, the Western media was keen to use the concept of “hybrid warfare” in relation to Russia’s actions, referring to the use of a creative mix of military and nonmilitary tactics—political, economic, diplomatic, informational and media—and the blurring of the boundaries between ← xii | xiii → physical frontlines and civilian spaces, as well as between combatants and noncombatants (Kaldor, 2001).

The “newness” of contemporary armed conflicts and wars has been widely debated, and it is not in the scope of this book to discuss it in detail. In terms of failing states and power politics entangled with divisive identity politics as a breeding ground for conflicts and, most of all, the horrible reality of war and its human cost, today’s conflicts and wars are not so different from “old wars.” Yet, in a post-Cold War context, the idea of war as a battle between warring parties that are identifiable due to national or ethnic origin or even—as we know from the Ukraine conflict—by military uniform is no longer valid (Korhonen, 2015). What this “newness” signals, in addition to evidently new elements of contemporary conflicts related in particular to globalisation and media and communication technologies, is the need to develop new ways to understand and explain the logic of conflict vis-à-vis the logic of the media in today’s global and converging media environment (Cottle, 2006; Kaldor, 2013).

The new media environment has been defined as a “hybrid media system” (Chadwick, 2013), referring to the confluence and mutual dependency of newer and older media forms and actors, the circulation of information across and between older and newer media and a range of new actors aiming to steer information flows and bring their causes to the news agenda. Much of the news and information that circulate in today’s world occurs in public online environments, which create opportunities for nonelite actors to intervene in the flows of communication and also contest dominant narratives. The “hybrid” dynamics of the media have thus introduced new possibilities, both for challenging and for exercising political power. Importantly, in the new media ecology, old media, primarily television and newspapers, have not lost their powerful position as “mainstream” but are hybridised with the online realm (Chadwick, 2011, 2013; Hoskins & O’Loughlin, 2010).


XXIV, 193
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (July)
Information war Hybrid media News Crisis reporting Framing Propaganda Information management Crowd-sourced intelligence User-generated content Strategic narratives Popular geopolitics Global news Social media Ukraine Europe Conflict
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XXIV, 193 pp.

Biographical notes

Mervi Pantti (Volume editor)

Mervi Pantti is Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Helsinki. She is the co-author of Disasters and the Media (Peter Lang, 2012) and co-editor of Amateur Images and Global News (2011).


Title: Media and the Ukraine Crisis
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