Kremlin related media continues to distort Latvia's image in February 2021 with increased magnitude and reach. Previously dominant disinformation outlets disoriented their focus away from Latvia; however, other largest media channels supported by Russia joined the race to repeatedly report on Latvia as a country violating human rights and interfering in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries.
In February 2021, Debunk EU detected 466 articles identified as disinformation and ten misleading articles as misinformation related to Latvia. Compared to January, with an average of 20.1% of misleading articles, February presented a 98.1% increase as disinformation constituted 39.9% of the content investigated. 'Problematic information' also increased in its scope of reach. Compared to January 2021, the number of contacts increased by 146.6% and potentially reached 289 million readers and content viewers.
Multiple events with political focus occurring in Latvia and directly affecting Russia triggered disinformation escalation in February. On a domestic policy level, there were three peaks:
One of Latvia's biggest telecommunication companies terminated the retransmission of several of Russian TV channels in Latvia.
The National Electronic Mass Media Council excluded 16 of Russia's TV programs from transmitting in Latvia and terminated the Rossiya RTR channel.
Latvia declared Russia's TV host Vladimir Solovyov as a persona non-grata.
The first two triggers increased the ration of disinformation in the first half of February, and the number constituted 20.3 cases per day. In the second half of February, except for the previously mentioned prohibition of Solovyov entering Latvia, the overall disinformation about Latvia decreased and benefited a lesser flow of misleading articles, constituting only 13.7 cases per day.
The cases presented on a domestic policy level which concerned Russian media in Latvia, portrayed the country's image mainly in two ways. 152 articles mentioned Latvia as a country violating freedom of speech and limiting media on its territory, but 102 articles pursued the misleading message that Latvia is a Russophobic state maintaining anti-Russian policies.
However, on a foreign policy level, the outlets spreading misleading news on Latvia sustained the idea that the country’s diplomatic presence during Alexei Navalny’s court hearing is deceptive, and that Latvia maintains a double-standard policy. On the one hand, Latvia supports the principles of democracy, but, on the other hand, it intervenes in other sovereign country's [Russia's] internal affairs. Interestingly, February presented a significant increase of messages claiming that Latvia still supports Fascism and Nazism ideas and heroises former Nazi collaborators. This 'problematic information’ was linked to the TV host's Solovyov’s prohibition to enter Latvia because he sympathised with Hitler's character in one of his TV shows.
While analysing the data, it became clear that February presented no leading outlets spreading disinformation about Latvia – even formerly dominant Kremlin related media outlet sputniknews.ru showed a decrease in 'problematic information' dropping from 23.3% in January to 11.1% in February 2021. However, January presented a more significant amplification of misleading content in other pro-Kremlin outlets which are rather popular, however, not much discussed in Latvia. This trend contributed to the considerable reach of potential contacts viewing and reading disinformation about Latvia due to these outlets' large audiences.