Disinformation actors focus on topics ranging from the events of the Russia-Ukraine war to refugees

In Lithuania, disinformation actors are turning their attention to the events of the Russia-Ukraine war but the Kaliningrad transit dispute is still present in their rhetoric. Ukrainian refugees continue to be targeted the most in Estonia and Latvia but new narratives about sanctions on Russia and the economic situation of the West have also appeared.


The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout July 25-31, 2022, including new or shifting narratives and key cases. These development and insights primarily relate to narratives about the following themes:

  • Events of the Russian invasion to Ukraine

  • (Negative) Economic Consequences of Sanctions

  • Refugees

  • Conditions of Russians and Russian-speaking Minorities

  • Military Threats to Eastern Europe/Risk of War Expanding Beyond Ukraine

  • Military Aid to Ukraine


ESTONIA


Overview:


  • In Estonia, topics concerning the number of arriving Ukrainian refugees, rising electricity costs, as well as the relocation of WWII Soviet monuments have spurred the flow of disinformation, especially by the EKRE (Conservative People's Party of Estonia).

  • The three key continuing narratives about refugees are: i) Estonia can no longer afford the expenses related to housing and supporting refugees, as such support is being provided at the expense of Estonian citizens; ii) those refugees who refuse to return home are culturally essentially Russians; iii) Ukrainian refugees are the source of HIV and prostitution. (The number of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia is approaching 50,000. Last week, 1,965 Ukrainian citizens crossed the border into Estonia, 373 of whom were children.)

  • Viktor Orbán's speech about “the three broken wheels of Europe” has been fully translated into Estonian and published on Uued Uudised. One important argument therein is that Western military help to Ukraine only aggravates the war and sanctions against Russia only hurt the West.

  • Several individual articles intended to discredit the Ukrainian leadership as corrupt and chauvinistic. Another message connected the war in Ukraine to the Great Reset conspiracy.


For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 4,800 interactions.


Disinformation narratives in Estonia about Ukrainian refugees

Disinformation narratives in Estonia about sanctions against Russia, military aid to Ukraine and other themes related to Ukraine
Disinformation narratives in Estonia about sanctions against Russia, military aid to Ukraine and other themes related to Ukraine

Key examples:


  • By admitting Ukrainian refugees, Estonia facilitates the trafficking in Ukrainian prostitutes [EKRE Hiiumaa].

“Unfortunately, the super-tolerant neo-Marxists fail to understand that if we do not speak out openly about prostitution originating in Ukraine, we are helping the traffickers who make huge profits by forcing women to sell themselves. Everything would be fine and pretty if such problems did not exist in Estonia, but the growing HIV levels in the country tells a different story, confirming the truth of Helme's warning.”

EKRE supporters seek to justify Mart Helme’s statement that Ukrainian refugee women deal with prostitution in Estonia. Hence, among other things, it is being claimed that Ukrainian pimps traffic prostitutes to the EU from Ukraine under the guise of war refugees. Therefore, by admitting Ukrainian refugees, Estonia facilitates human trafficking.


  • Ukraine puts a label "pro-Russian" on everybody who made at least a small mistake in the expression of their opinions, even on renowned U.S. journalists and politicians [Vanglaplaneet].

“Thus, the impression is that anyone who, in the opinion of the Ukrainian government, makes the slightest mistake in what they say is immediately labelled a ‘pro-Russian’ propagandist.”

The article claims that persons are being put on the list of pro-Russian actors by the Ukrainian disinformation centre for no clear reason. However, they all spread the classic Kremlin narratives which range from supporting the referendums in the so-called DNR and LNR to statements that NATO provoked Putin. Author also adds that since the beginning of the war everybody who had a different opinion and did not support the U.S. and NATO foreign policy was unjustly accused of spreading Russian propaganda or otherwise serving the Kremlin.



LATVIA


Overview:


  • Just as in previous weeks, only a few articles spreading distorted narratives about the war in Ukraine among Latvian-speaking audiences were detected.

  • Latvian populist politician Aldis Gobzems claims that Ukrainian refugees are given more aid than they need, and that Latvians should instead focus on solving their own citizens’ issues.

  • Sanctions were claimed to have no effect on the Russian economy but have allegedly brought a lot of damage to the West itself.

  • Individual messages were detected “exposing” corruption in Ukraine (the narrative that “Ukraine steals Western financial aid”) and spreading traditional fakes about biolabs in the country.


For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 3,000 interactions.


Disinformation narratives in Latvia about Ukrainian refugees and sanctions against Russia
Disinformation narratives in Latvia about Ukrainian refugees and sanctions against Russia

Disinformation narratives in Latvia about sanctions against Russia, military aid to Ukraine and other themes related to Ukraine
Disinformation narratives in Latvia about sanctions against Russia, military aid to Ukraine and other themes related to Ukraine

Key examples:


  • Ukrainian refugees are taking advantage of Latvia’s goodwill and financial aid [Facebook page].

“And then there are the sheep who are brainwashed by Panorama [the news] and they believe the text - they run away from war, not poverty. Europe is full of such examples. They live, hang out, they do not protect their country, do not collect donations for their people. Because there will be sheep wandering around the shabby Riga with their flags.’’

Latvian populist politician Aldis Gobzems in this post claims that Ukrainian refugees are not fleeing from war, but come to Latvia to live better lives and get richer. He also states that many do not even want to defend their country and are only interested in money.


Gobzems uses some examples of wealthy Ukrainians he has seen during his travels, without offering any evidence. He further engages in generalisation, claiming that all of the refugees behave this way.



LITHUANIA


Overview:


  • The events of the Russia-Ukraine war were covered in the Lithuanian language segment more extensively this week, partially due to the alleged air strike at the Olenivka POW (Prisoners of War) camp. Responsibility for the attack was placed on the Ukrainian army.

  • The Olenivka strike provided another occasion for pro-Russian voices to again claim that reports of Russian war crimes are all fake. Other conspiracies have continued to circulate: pro-Russian voices in Lithuania claim the war is not real or that there are certain influential people who benefit from the war. “Green funds” conspiracies also continue to be observed: pro-Kremlin messengers claim that the war was provoked to prevent Ukraine from becoming Europe’s major exporter of hydrogen or to create an artificial energy crisis that would allow "green funds” to buy out fossil fuel companies.

  • The Kaliningrad transit dispute, despite being resolved weeks ago, is still present in the rhetoric of pro-Kremlin messengers, who blame their government for dragging Lithuania into the war with Russia. Lithuania’s efforts to build up its military capacity, as well as the award of the highest state honour to Zelensky, have also been presented as gestures that may provoke Russia to engage in military aggression against Lithuania.

  • The previously observed campaign to discredit fundraising efforts for Ukraine’s benefit continued into this week. MP Žemaitaitis and Orlaukas again attacked activists collecting money to support Ukraine; Rūta Janutienė implied that the Bayraktar fundraising effort was fraudulent.

For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 11,600 interactions.