After Belarus has given the green light for starting the industrial operation of the BelNPP in June, the European Union was accused of bias and non-cooperation to ensure nuclear safety in the region, while Alexander Lukashenko said that Lithuania saw the success of the BelNPP and now wishes to revive an old plant in Ignalina. Moreover, pro-Kremlin media have once again attacked the reputation of the Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda.
The largest wave
At the beginning of summer (June 3rd), the largest wave of disinformation appeared in a relation to the official announcement of the Ministry of Emergencies of the Republic of Belarus, informing that it had issued a license to start industrial operation of the Belarusian NPP Unit 1. In this regard, according to ria.ru, during the press conference Alexander Lukashenko said that his country is being criticised for constructing this nuclear power plant, while the West and Lithuania is allegedly planning to revive the old decommissioned, Soviet-built Ignalina NPP:
"It will be necessary to build a second nuclear power plant. […] The West and especially our neighbours criticised us all the time: "Oh, the station, security, violations, etc. And now they themselves have planned the construction of the stations. Previously, Lithuania could barely articulate it, now is already thinking about building, and perhaps returning to the Ignalina NPP […]". Lukashenko also stressed that: "The nuclear energy is the future […] and, thank God, that at one time we tackled this problem."
Moreover, vz.ru stated that European Commission expresses not a genuine view of its own while telling that the operation of the BelNPP was started before implementing of all the safety recommendations contained in the EU's 2018 stress test report, but the official view of Lithuania, which was blamed for unreasonably opposing the BelNPP due to adverse political reasons.
The very next day European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson commented on the situation:
"It is regrettable that Belarus decided to start commercial operation of the Astravets nuclear power plant without fulfilling all the safety recommendations contained in the 2018 EU stress test report. As the commission has repeatedly stated, all recommendations of the peer assessment should be implemented by Belarus without delay." She also added that "the situation in Astravets is a source of heightened concern in the EU."
The Belarusian authorities in response declared the stress tests of the BelNPP are of the voluntary nature and reproached the EU for an alleged policy of double standards in connection with the statement of the EU Commissioner for Energy.
The Ministry of Energy of Belarus stated that instead of maintaining constructive interaction in the field of strengthening nuclear and radiation safety, European politicians make loud statements, trying to devalue the progress of our country in the implementation of recommendations following the stress tests, heighten the situation, labelling Belarus as an unfair participant in the pan-European and radiation safety:
"Such rhetoric clearly demonstrates the use of double standards and runs counter to international principles of partnership. Nuclear power plant stress tests should not be subject to political manipulation. This contradicts their main goal – to improve the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants in Europe."
Throughout June 2-3, 48 cases of malign information were recorded, which reached 13M the audience of potential contacts.
Pro-Kremlin media makes use of events to promote disinformation narratives
In the middle of June, a message appeared that a loan of €100M for the purchase of Siemens gas turbine units by Belarus, which Minsk had previously agreed upon with the German bank KfW IPEX-Bank, was cancelled. The reason for the refusal was the decision of the Swedish export credit agency EKN to withdraw the insurance guarantees of the deal. It followed the forced landing in Minsk of a Ryanair plane routed from Athens to Vilnius.
Several of the biggest pro-Kremlin media websites quoted Pavel Latushko and Nikolai Prokofiev, the members of the Belarusian opposition, who noted that it would be difficult to find new sources of credit. According to him, Belarus needs German turbines to modernise power grids, without which the safe operation of the BelNPP is impossible.
The pro-Kremlin media has made good use of this situation by demonstratively repeating the sub-narrative that it is not Belarus but Europe itself that does not seek to cooperate in the name of BelNPP safety.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda got some attention from pro-Kremlin media too – baltnews.lt wrote:
"Before becoming the President of the Baltic country, Nausėda worked for a long time at the Swedish bank SEB. Therefore, it is not surprising that, with his calls for an early disconnection from BRELL, Nausėda is de facto pushing an initiative that is needed primarily by Swedish capital and energy companies. Their goal is to remove all competitors in the energy market, if not the Baltics, then at least Lithuania. And make Scandinavian energy suppliers monopolies. […] Lithuania, promoting the goals of the Scandinavians in the Baltic States, will try to keep the loophole to electricity from Kaliningrad in the future (Swedish capital has not yet banned this), because absolute energy independence from Russia and Belarus threatens many technical problems in the future."
This one is another great example how pro-Kremlin media make use of publicly already known facts (Nausėda‘s former carier in the Swedish capital bank SEB) in order to promote their disinformation narratives which tend to discredit Lithuanian aspiration for energy independence from Russia by disconnecting from old Soviet-build BRELL energy ring.
Throughout June 2021, malign information against the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP accounted for 156 (30.59% out of examined 510 that were related to the BelNPP). This shows a slight decrease in comparison to the statistics of May (169 i.e., 25.68% out of examined 658). Out of false content pieces, disinformation constituted 84.62% while misinformation – 15.38% (82.84% and 17.16% in May respectively) of the articles that were published by the Kremlin-funded (or affiliated) media outlets, and hostile activity on social media.
Articles published by the pro-Kremlin media sources covered the largest scope of the analysed data. Out of 156 articles identified with false and misleading content, 81% were written in Russian and 19% in Lithuanian (65.1% and 34.9% in May respectively). Sputniknews.ru, baltnews.lt and sputniknews.lt published the biggest share of articles containing a malign message about the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (13.5%, 10.3% and 7.1% share of all articles respectively).
While the quantity of the collected data could be categorised into the section which directly targets the Lithuanian information field (more local, minor sources), it is important to determine the impact and the reach of more indirect or global media sources (large media outlets or channels) that differs in terms of quality and reach (e. g. one article published by lenta.ru usually has a bigger impact than twenty articles published by baltnews.lt). Therefore, during the period considered lenta.ru, ria.ru and rambler.ru shared almost 57% of total contact reach of articles in June containing malign message about Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (23.6%, 21.6% and 11.6% of all articles respectively).