As falsehoods about BelNPP spread, Kremlin media claims that cold-ridden Baltics are asking for help
With the temperatures in the region reaching sub-zero level, Latvia and Estonia are asking for Russia's help and persuading Lithuania to change its mind about the Belarusian electricity blockade. These and similar loud statements were shared by pro-Kremlin media channels in December. False and misleading articles also accused Lithuania of having driven energy prices in the region to historic highs by its unilateral actions, making local businesses uncompetitive and encouraging them to shut down.
In December 2021, the pro-Kremlin media often repeated the inaccurate message that Lithuania opposes the BelNPP electricity not for the environmental, but political, Russophobic reasons. In fact, this one and most of the other narratives used by the Kremlin-affiliated media proactively sought to discredit Lithuania's policy towards the BelNPP being unsafe.
On the one hand, it was stressed that Lithuania, faced with the reality of cold winters and high energy prices, was no longer able to follow its policy consistently and had increased its electricity imports from Belarus. On the other hand, it has been argued that the other Baltic countries do not agree with the reduction of electricity capacity from Belarus because they are not served with Russian electricity and are therefore trying to persuade Lithuania to remove the constraints. Although these messages are contradictory, these arguments were used without questioning their credibility and applied in different contexts to show that the politics of Lithuania are wholly unreasonable.
In addition, there was an attempt to exacerbate the discussion between the Baltic states through spreading allegations about a dispute and suggesting that even the supposedly closest Baltic neighbours (despite being presented as traditionally Russophobic) do not share Lithuania's position on the BelNPP.
Moreover, the Russian side is shown to be rational, magnanimous, and willing to lend a helping hand, even to those who hurt it. Following the news that Latvia and Estonia are willing to ask Russia to increase exports to the Baltic states, the pro-Kremlin media widely circulated a comment by the Russian energy monopoly Inter RAO that the company is ready to increase exports immediately. In addition, the Soviet-era BRELL energy ring and the Ignalina NPP were shown to be the most economically viable and safest pillars of the electricity system of the region.
Notably, the extent of disinformation against Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (in comparison to November) slightly diminished. Throughout December 2021, malign information against the Lithuanian position regarding the BelNPP accounted for 136 entities (31.64% out of examined 433).
The highest peak of negative mentions discrediting Lithuanian stance on this matter was observed on December 10. The proliferation coincided with an article by Ria.ru columnist Sergey Savchuk, in which he expressed his thoughts that in the face of the energy crisis, the Baltic states have forgotten the hostility of asking Russia for a help hand in the form of electricity.
The article summarises the news about Latvian and Estonian efforts to increase electricity imports from Russia. The text also repeats several of the main disinformation narratives used against the policies of Lithuania and the Baltic States: it suggests that Lithuania can blame itself for the creation of the BelNPP, because it has followed the orders from the European Union and closed the electricity plant in Ignalina - the safest nuclear power plant in Europe.
The text stressed that the Baltics are at odds over the BelNPP, that their desire to disconnect from the BRELL energy ring is unreasonable, and that energy independence from Russia does not exist. Moreover, it was said that unlike Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are trying to ‘solve the issue’ and reverse the practice of ‘absolute non-negotiability and disregard for logic and economics, even to the detriment of oneself and partners who are directly dependent on transit through a particular country’.
There were two more peaks disinformation throughout the month. One was recorded on December 7, when another ria.ru columnist Valery Mikhailov wrote about Ukraine's efforts (and the scandals that allegedly accompany them) to find alternative sources of energy supply. The article also quoted a comment by a representative of the Estonian system operator Elering Ain Köster that Estonia and Latvia were negotiating with Lithuania to increase electricity imports from Russia.
Another wave of false and misleading content occurred on December 15, when news broke that Estonian Cell, a large cellulose plant in Estonia, was recently forced to shut down due to extremely high energy prices, which made its production uncompetitive.
Out of 137 publications identified with false and misleading content in December, 77.4% were in Russian and 22.6% in Lithuanian. Cont.ws, sputniknews.ru and rubaltic.ru published the biggest share of content with malign messages about the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (9.5%, 8%, and 7.3% share of all articles respectively). In Lithuanian, disinformation was most actively disseminated by sputniknews.lt, rubaltic.ru and respublika.lt (25.8%, 16.1%, and 16.1% share of all articles respectively).
As measured by the reached potential audience, ria.ru, rambler.ru and regnum.ru shared more than two thirds of the total contact reach of all articles (26%, 13.9%, and 8.3% of all articles respectively). It is worth mentioning that since 2014, ria.ru has been taken over by the Kremlin-subordinate institutions and is funded by the state budget.