False allegations target activists raising funds and collecting aid for Ukraine

Conspiracies about Ukrainian refugees spreading sexually transmitted deseases, liberals using Russian invasion to push their anti-traditional agenda, and activists taking advantage of the aid they collect prevailed in the second week of July. The EU sanctions for transit of goods to Kaliningrad through Lithuania remains as the top disinformation narrative.


The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout July 11-17, 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:

  • This week, only a handful of articles were detected targeting Estonian-language audiences with Russian narratives. A significant share of them covered the topic of Ukrainian refugees. Ukrainians are depicted as people spreading dangerous diseases; the Estonian government is allegedly interested in them as a cheap labour force. EKRE continued claiming that that Ukrainians threaten Estonian culture and the economy (this is how they commented on the Minister of Interior’s idea to withdraw weapons permits for those with “anti-Ukrainian” views).

  • A UN human rights report is misleadingly quoted to highlight that the Ukrainian armed forces used civilians as a human shield. Individual stories are identified aiming to undermine public trust to mainstream media reporting on Ukraine, and discredit Ukrainian leadership.

For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 2,600 interactions.




Key examples:


  • The Ukrainian Armed Forces use civilians as human shields and blame the Russian armed forces [Vanglaplaneet].

“A new UN report found that Ukrainian officials ignored the nursing home's request to evacuate its elderly and disabled residents to a safe place and instead mined the surrounding roads and allowed soldiers to take up positions in the nursing home and use civilians there as human shields”. “When a large number of civilians were killed and injured in Russia's attack on Ukrainian military positions and used as human shields, the Ukrainians accused Russia of war crimes”. “This was despite the fact that, when the survivors of the attack fled the building into the nearby forest, it was Russian troops who helped them.”


In fact, the quoted report says that “At the beginning of March 2022, when active hostilities drew nearer to the care house, its management repeatedly requested local authorities to evacuate the residents. This was reportedly impossible as the Ukrainian armed forces had allegedly mined the surrounding area and blocked roads. On 7 March, soldiers from Ukrainian armed forces entered the care house, where older persons and residents with disabilities and staff were located, as it had strategic value due to its proximity to an important road. On 9 March, soldiers from Russian affiliated armed groups, who were approaching from the opposite direction, engaged in an exchange of fire with soldiers from Ukrainian armed forces, although it remains unclear which side opened fire first.” Hence, the article has it wrong that, instead of evacuating the residents of the care house, the Ukrainian forces mined the surrounding roads. The report does not blame the Ukrainian military for using civilians as a shield neither in this or other described cases. However, such tactics are blamed on Russian forces in several other cases described in the report.



LATVIA


Overview:

  • Similarly to previous weeks, only a handful of articles was detected targeting Latvian-language audiences with Russian narratives.

  • Most of the observed articles spread conspiracies around the Russia-Ukraine war, such as: liberals in Ukraine use the war to promote their anti-traditional agenda; there are people making money on the war; the war is a part of a global conspiracy.

  • Recently, the initiative of obligatory military service was introduced in Latvia, so it is still a topic which is discussed vastly in Latvian public discourse. Pro-Kremlin voices also touched this topic as they questioned the necessity and capacity of Latvia to defend itself in a possible war with Russia, as well as the benefits of NATO membership. Another issue that provided a background for Kremlin propaganda this week is growing food prices, and energy security.


For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 2,700 interactions.






Key examples:


  • Liberals in Ukraine are using the war to push their political agenda [Facebook].

Latvian priest and political candidate Māris Jencītis posted on his Facebook page that leftists in Ukraine have started a petition to legalise same gender marriage in Ukraine and that this has happened due to left-wing supporters taking advantage of the war situation. Māris Jencītis is one of the founders of the political party “Latvia in the First Place’’ (Latvija Pirmajā Vietā), which was created in August 2021. “Latvia in the First place” is a conservative party and the author of the post is the Catholic church priest, so that explains the scepticism towards the legalisation of same sex marriage.

  • The war in Ukraine was started as a business opportunity [Facebook].

This Facebook post contains a photo with an illustration which depicts a businessman sending a soldier into war and then collecting profit, while the soldier himself dies in combat. In the description the author of the post Valentins Jeremejevs has added a hashtag and the phrase “war is business’’. Valentins Jermejevs is a public figure in Latvia and has shared disinformation in the past, including suspicious claims about the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine.



LITHUANIA


Overview:


● The focus of this week’s disinformation was concentrated on the events of the war, Lithuania’s implementation of EU sanctions on the transit between Russia and Kaliningrad and military aid to Ukraine.

● Ignas Vėgėlė, a controversial and popular Lithuanian attorney and former chairman of the Council of the Lithuanian Bar, published an opinion piece full of manipulative narratives. The article was highly discussed and referred to by different disinformation actors.

● While the Kaliningrad affair seems to have been diplomatically resolved, pro-Kremlin voices continued speculating with it. They went as far as to say that Lithuania has been put “under a tank”, and this was done to scale up tensions and make the public scared and more easily controlled.

● Like the previous week, developments on the Ukrainian frontlines were in the focus of pro-Russian voices in Lithuania. They picked up and rebroadcast foreign opinions in favour of Russia (like quotes of Noam Chomsky, or articles from “Il Giornale) and accused the Ukrainian army of targeting civilians with HIMAR strikes and burning wheat fields.

● Intensive attempts are recorded to discredit military and financial aid to Ukraine. The narrative goes that military support and any kind of donations to Ukraine are immoral as this is used to attack civilians. Vaidas Lekstutis goes even further, claiming that private donors might end up on a list which could be used by enemy forces if the geopolitical situation changes (i.e. if Russia occupies Lithuania). Ignas Vėgėlė claimed that aid to Ukraine lacks transparency, thus implying that certain individuals and organisations are probably benefiting from this ‘fraud’. This stance was backed by two MPs, who questioned the activities of Andrius Tapinas and Olegas Šurajevas.


For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 37,600 interactions.