In July, after the automatic security system was launched, the first unit of the Belarusian NPP was shut down once again – however, instead of analysing possible reasons behind this incident, pro-Kremlin media continued with the usual accusations towards the European Union. DebunkEU.org data shows that narratives about closest allies being reluctant to support decisions of Lithuania regarding the BelNPP were repeated throughout the month.
In July 2021, attention fell on the relations between the Baltic countries, regarding their position towards the BelNPP. In this context, disinformation sub-narratives which are already popular in the pro-Kremlin media were repeated – for example that the Baltic unity on the BelNPP issue does not exist and that Lithuania pressured other Baltic states to oppose the BelNPP. The aim of such messages is to highlight even the slightest disagreement between the Baltic countries, to portray them as allegedly bickering over their position.
The pro-Kremlin media is trying to create an impression that the actions taken by the Lithuanian government to combat threats posed by the BelNPP are met with mistrust even by the closest allies, who are unwilling to give in to the unreasonable demands of Lithuania. The intensification of these disinformation messages can be attributed to the news about the Lithuanian and Latvian government leaders agreeing to treat the BelNPP as a threat to both regional and European security on a political level and continuing their dialogue only on the technical issues. In addition, at the beginning of July, representatives of the Lithuanian government visited both Latvia and Estonia – during the meetings the issue of the BelNPP was also discussed.
A similar tendency – showing that Lithuanian position on the BelNPP is unacceptable to its partners – was observed in the context of Lithuanian-Polish relations. A message that Poland allegedly showed interest in reviving the Baltic NDP project in the Kaliningrad region (Russia) behind Lithuania’s back, appeared in the pro-Kremlin media and was later followed by various comments. Later Polish authorities denied such information and it turned out that the message came from a private initiative and possibly not without the knowledge of pro-Kremlin forces. The goal of this message can probably be seen as an attempt to discredit Lithuania's will to suspend the operation of the unsafe BelNPP and stop electricity exports to the West on an international level, showing that even the closest allies are looking for alternative electricity sources in the region.
The highest peak of negative mentions discrediting the Lithuanian position was observed on July 8 (19 mentions). Proliferation coincided with a message that appeared in the pro-Kremlin media after the press conference of the Prime Minister of Lithuania Ingrida Šimonytė and Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal at the Ukraine Reform Conference in Vilnius, which emphasised Ukrainian decision to refuse to buy electricity from the Belarusian nuclear power plant.
However, this decision was interpreted in pro-Kremlin media – it was said that this decision was allegedly reached only during this meeting. Lenta.ru ironically emphasised that both sides agree on avoiding the “dangerous suppliers” of electricity:
Ukraine supported Lithuania and refused to buy electricity from the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant (BelNPP). This was reported by the Telegram channel "Sputnik Near Abroad". The decision was made after the talks between the prime ministers of the two countries Denys Shmyhal and Ingrida Šimonytė in Vilnius. Both sides believe that the plant does not comply with the safety standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Šimonytė welcomed the desire of the Ukrainian authorities to avoid "dangerous suppliers" and to join the European electricity market ENTSO-E. Shmyhal, in turn, stressed that a natural gas market has opened in Ukraine and reforms are being carried out to accelerate integration with the European electricity market.
Two more peaks of disinformation were noticed in July. First one occurred after the meeting between Lithuanian Minister of Energy Dainius Kreivys with Latvian Minister of Economy Janis Vitenbergs in Riga on July 1. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the progress of negotiations on rules for electricity trade from the third countries. Both officials agreed that such guidelines are necessary but found no common ground on how to implement them technically. The disagreement was captured by the pro-Kremlin media and presented in the headlines of numerous articles that unequivocally repeated the disinformation narrative that the Baltic unity does not exist on the issue of the BelNPP. Sputniknews.ru (Latvian version) has published the following headlines:
Headline: Latvia and Lithuania quarrelled over Russian electricity certificates
Lead: Latvia claims it trades Russian electricity because it has Russian certificates, Lithuania does not trust its neighbours.
The second significant increase of disinformation occurred on July 12, when it was announced that after the automatic security system was activated, the first power unit of the BelNPP disconnected from the network once again. Many of the pro-Kremlin media channels publicised this message and some of them added a paragraph saying that European politicians demonstrate double standards and infringe international partnership principles by spreading allegedly unfounded statements about the BelNPP not complying with the safety regulations. Citing rambler.ru and rg.ru:
By the way, as SOYUZ informed earlier, the leadership of the Ministry of Energy Belarus, responding to unfounded criticism about the plant voiced by European politicians not so long ago, drew attention to the fact that instead of maintaining constructive interaction in the field of strengthening nuclear and radiation safety, they make loud statements, trying to escalate the situation, labelling Belarus as unfair participant in the pan-European processes. "Such rhetoric clearly demonstrates the use of double standards and contradict international principles of partnership," the ministry concluded.
Throughout July 2021, malign information against the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP accounted for 148 entities (30.27% out of examined 489). In this regard, disinformation constituted 79.05% while misinformation – 20.95% of the articles published and distributed by the Kremlin-funded (or affiliated) media outlets and social media accounts.
Out of 148 identified articles with false and misleading content, 63.5% were written in Russian and 36.5% in Lithuanian. Sputniknews.lt, sputniknews.ru and baltnews.lt published the biggest share of publications containing some malign message about the Lithuanian position regarding the BelNPP (10.1%, 8.8%, and 5.4% share of all articles respectively).
Our data shows that during the period considered, lenta.ru, rambler.ru and rg.ru shared almost half of the total contact reach of articles (18.3%, 18%, and 12.5% of all articles respectively).