While refugees, sanctions, and public support for Ukraine remained key targets of disinformation in the beginning of July, the topic of Kaliningrad was further exploited to assert that Lithuania is only provoking Russia. A new trend of placing the Russian invasion to Ukraine in the context of popular conspiracies, such as the Great Reset, was noticed as well.
The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout July 4-10, 2022, including new or shifting narratives and key cases. These development and insights primarily relate to narratives about the following themes:
Events of the Russia-Ukraine War
(Negative) Economic Consequences of Sanctions
Conditions of Russians and Russian-speaking Minorities
Military Threats to Eastern Europe/Risk of War Expanding Beyond Ukraine
Military Aid to Ukraine
Over the previous week, the key topic that pro-Kremlin messengers used for Estonian-language audiences was Ukrainian refugees. They were pushing the narrative that some believe Ukrainians who come to Estonia to be better than Russians due to their language, culture etc. Also, Ukrainian refugees were portrayed as scoundrels hiding in Estonia from military service. The EKRE party was particularly active in spreading these messages: “deserters are given the opportunity to hide abroad - although it should be of the utmost importance for Estonia that the Russian war machine in Ukraine is smashed to pieces”.
The war was placed in the context of popular conspiracies. One of them was the Great Reset conspiracy: allegedly, the Covid pandemic was the first phase of the Reset, and the Russia-Ukraine war is the second one. Another theory goes that the reason for the war was to discredit and destroy the Russian Orthodox Church.
The monitoring did not observe any noteworthy trace of other Kremlin narratives (those related to sanctions, negative consequences of military support to Ukraine, Ukraine losing the war). Yet, the modest general amounts of stories that the monitoring managed to identify does not allow to judge of trends at this stage
Electricity prices set a record on Monday, June 11. Finland-Baltic region appears in deficit. This will probably be used by pro-Kremlin voices to continue discrediting Estonian support to Ukraine, especially in view of the fact that the energy policy of the government appears heavily challenged by opposition parties.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 2,300 interactions.
Ukrainians sell the weapons donated by the West, including to the Russians [Uued Uudised]
"The highly authoritative Bulgarian state-run publication Bulgarian Military has published a story that, according to both Ukrainian and French sources, it has emerged that Ukraine has sold two 155 mm howitzers it received from the French directly to the Russians".
"Interpol is also allegedly aware of the matter, with German publication Overton Magazin highlighting the views of Interpol chief Jürgen Stock on the same issue. He fears that ‘weapons will fall into the hands of criminal groups’. He adds that even the US special services do not know exactly where these weapons are going and that this trade probably has the tacit approval of a number of foreign countries".
Over the previous week, and as previously observed, Latvian-language pro-Kremlin social media segments produced only a few stories related to the war in Ukraine, which attracted modest audience engagement. A possible explanation is that the Kremlin prioritizes targeting local Russian-speaking populations (see the specific chapter in this Report for more information) rather than the limited in size and hardly persuadable Latvian-speaking audiences.
Populist politician Aldis Gobzems appealed to nationalistic sentiments and criticised Latvian policies and the situation in the country - one of the aspects of criticism was the “overuse” of Ukrainian flags, which supposedly undermines Latvian native culture and nation.
NATO talks to increase their military presence in Latvia were portrayed as threatening Latvian national security.
Stand-alone articles were detected promoting the narratives of military superiority of Russia and senselessness of sanctions.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 4,600 interactions.
Latvia should remain neutral to prevent being dragged into war [Veselais saprāts’].
The Facebook post shared some facts about US and Russian weapon arsenals without providing any sources. The author claimed that these facts indicate Russia’s military superiority over the USA (and NATO). This post also implies that the war is likely to expand to Latvia, other Baltic states, and possibly elsewhere because NATO will not be able to protect these countries from the stronger power – Russia.
The post was made by the Facebook page “Veselais saprāts’’, which shares disinformation on several different topics, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the world economy, and the war in Ukraine.
Over the previous week, the topic of Kaliningrad was receiving less attention but remained mainstreamed into pro-Kremlin messengers’ discourse. Despite positive messages from EU officials claiming that the Kaliningrad dispute will be solved through amendment of the sanction package, pro-Kremlin voices continued threatening their audience with a big war because of Kaliningrad. The matter was also used as an example of how harmful and suicidal the sanctions are for European countries. This week, the priest Robertas Grigas appeared as one of the voices claiming that Lithuania should not provoke Russia and must lift the transit limitations.
Along with that, we observe increased attention to developments of the Russia-Ukraine war. Pro-Kremlin voices were claiming that Ukraine is to blame for the global food crisis, whereas the West was accused of waging war against Russia in Ukraine (and provoking Russia to attack Ukraine). Lithuania is portrayed as a puppet obeying orders from the US. Putin’s statement, “we haven’t started in full yet”, was picked up and broadcast.
An attempt to discredit Andrius Tapinas, the man who fundraised for the Bayraktar drone, was detected.
Conspiracies about the Lugano conference were spread: the story goes that the West's efforts to rebuild Ukraine are only in service of including Ukraine in the "EU-USA-UK-NATO" empire.
Only one anti-refugee message was detected; the author complained that money is given to Ukrainian refugees while Lithuanian elderly people are starving.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 4,800 interactions.
Lithuania’s ban on transit from Russia to Kaliningrad is provoking Russia [respublika.lt].
The main narrative of the article written by priest Robertas Grigas is in essence the same as presented in other pieces of disinformation regarding the ban of transit of sanctioned goods from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad: Lithuania is provoking Russia, and the government is stupid and short-sighted for having made such a decision. The author claims that such sanctions will provoke Russia and that it in no way helps Ukrainians if Lithuania should be attacked for it, meaning Ukrainian refugees in Lithuania will also be attacked. However, he later goes on to agree that Russia does not need a real reason to attack Lithuania, but the ban on transit would be a good pretext for it nonetheless. Thus, in a way the author contradicts his assumption that Lithuania’s decision would be the real cause of Russian aggression and the suffering of Ukrainian refugees in Lithuania.