Disinformation actors use EU sanctions on transit of goods to Kaliningrad to spread falsehoods

The issue of Kaliningrad remained widely speculated about by Lithuanian pro-Kremlin actors for the entirety of July, while in Estonia it was the Ukrainian refugees who got targeted the most. In the second half of the month, a new narrative emerged in Latvia, claiming that the war in Ukraine is not real.


The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout July 18-24, 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:


  • For the Estonian speakers, Kremlin propaganda continues to promote messages in harmony with the right-wing agenda.

  • Trust in Ukraine is undermined with messages that ordinary Ukrainians refuse to fight, and the image of the heroic stand of Ukraine is merely a myth. Ukraine is portrayed as under a reign of chaos, where nationalists control of what remains of the country. Finnish academic Tuomas Forsberg is quoted questioning the effect of HIMARS on the battlefield.

  • Economic sanctions are portrayed as harmful to Estonian interests. This week, given the talks in Istanbul, the grain issue was debated, and sanctions are falsely blamed for the global food crisis.

  • There are efforts to conflate Ukrainian refugees and Russian emigres, suggesting that Estonia should not priorities Ukrainians. Additionally, the increased number of Ukrainian refugees is accused of causing violence between them and the local Russian population; EKRE-run websites demand “not to bring the war” to Estonian territory. The narrative may increase next week thanks to i) Russia lifting Covid restrictions on July 15, which led to an increase in traffic across the EstoniaRussia border (as most of the incoming Russians have visas issued by other Schengen states, the Estonian Minister of the Interior acknowledges that they can do nothing to stop this); ii) this week, a record number of Ukrainian refugees entering Estonia.


For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 3,500 interactions





Key examples:


  • Instead of refugees, Estonia is accepting thousands of Russian-speakers who are Putin supporters [Uued Uudised].

“In Estonia, a completely abnormal situation has developed, where thousands of Russian-speaking people are being admitted to the country, some of whom are probably not refugees but spiritual subjects of Russia. A critical mass is building up and one does not want to think about the future. Some person with dual nationality, who incites murder and war crimes on social media, makes collections for terrorists who have invaded Ukraine and delivers drones to them, and we give him 4 months' rest in our Euro-prison instead of taking his nationality and sending him out of here for ever.”

No distinction is made between Ukrainian war refugees and Russian-speaking Putin’s supporters who are crossing the Estonian border seeking refuge. Thus, by admitting a huge influx of refugees, Estonia is putting itself in danger.


  • Food exports have been hampered by anti-Russian sanctions, which led to the increase of both food and energy prices around the world [Eestinen.fi]

“Ukraine's grain exports have been hampered by a blockade of the Russian Black Sea fleet, which prevents ships from entering ports. Food exports have also been hampered by anti-Russian sanctions. This in turn has pushed up both food and energy prices around the world.”

The argument that the fate of the Russian-Ukrainian war will be decided on the battlefield is questioned and it is claimed that the war will end behind the negotiating table as the first agreement between Russia and Ukraine was reached in the negotiations on grain exports. The reasons for blockades of Ukrainian grain exports are seen in the blockade of the Russian Black Sea fleet and anti-Russian sanctions in general.



LATVIA


Overview:


  • This week, only a handful of articles were detected targeting the Latvian-speaking population about the war in Ukraine.

  • Some of the stories contained different conspiracies around the war, such as that it’s all staged and not real, or that Ukraine and Russia secretly cooperate.

  • Individual stories are also detected questioning the effect of sanctions and claiming that Ukrainian refugees threaten Latvian culture.


For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 4,900 interactions




Key examples:


  • A Latvian politician claims that in the Ukrainian-Russian war economic factors and business are the most important aspects and implies that all sides involved in war benefit in some way [Facebook].

“While Russian gas flows to Europe through Ukrainian land pipelines, the big federation is also paying for it and financing it. Ukraine also use this natural resource”;
“Business my friends, bloody business and bloody politics, not war”.

This Facebook post has shared a photo of Ukraine and gas pipelines, which go through the country.

The author of the post proceeds to explain that mostly the war is about business, making money [in this case - energy business]. This post was shared on a Facebook page of a Latvian politician Toms Andersons who is a member of a Latvian populist political party “For Humanly Latvia’’ [Par cilvēcīgu Latviju], formerly called “KPV-LV”.


  • A Facebook post claims that the war in Ukraine might not be real [Facebook].

“As if there is a war in Ukraine. As if”;
“Who hasn't run to Ukraine and posed in front of the cameras there. Politicians, famous musicians, famous actors”.

This Facebook posts questions the fact that real war is happening in Ukraine. The author tries to defend their opinion that the war in Ukraine is not real by arguing that many politicians, musicians and other famous people are visiting Ukraine during this war and if the war was real - how could anyone guarantee the safety of these visitors? The post also states other wars that have happened before and how no one visited these places during conflicts (which is false).


The Facebook page “Veselais saprāts” has shared disinformation on several topics, including COVID-19 pandemic, global economy, war in Ukraine.



LITHUANIA


Overview:


  • For the fourth week, the Kaliningrad issue remains widely speculated about by Lithuanian pro-Kremlin actors. All of the articles about Kaliningrad claimed that the Lithuanian government is/was escalating the conflict and dragging the country into war with Russia. It seems that this topic will be utilised for a long time, even with the issue being resolved by the European Commission, because of the popularity it gained and the reactions it attracted. These provide disinformation actors and marginal opposition figures an easy way to attack the current government and gain “political points” by exposing its allegedly short-handed and harmful policies. Opposition parliamentarians said on Wednesday they are initiating an interpellation motion against Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis over his handling of EU sanctions on Russian goods transiting via Lithuania to Kaliningrad.

  • Intensive efforts are observed to discredit the Ukrainian army as the war with Russia continues. A narrative was spread that claims a Ukrainian drone hit Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. Ukrainians are claimed to sell Western weapons on the black market. Associations with the SS Galizien division were used to label Ukrainians as Nazis. The West is frequently blamed for launching the war (Eduardas Vaitkus).

  • The campaign to discredit the fundraisers supporting Ukraine that was observed in the previous weeks rolls on, though not that intensively. Propagandists referred to a FB post by MP Remigijus Žemaitaitis that contained another set of accusations against Oleg Šurajev and Andrius Tapinas.

  • Different conspiracies around the war in Ukraine were spread, including rumours that the Lithuanian government uses the war to establish a dictatorship, whereas the war was launched to provoke an artificial energy crisis. Vaidas Žemaitis claimed that Lithuania is taking commands from the US and interfering in the affairs of other countries (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus).

  • There were a few (but still not many) pieces which focused on the sanctions against Russia and Ukrainian refugees.


For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 7,700 interactions.