Among the changes that could be observed in the rhetoric of the pro-Kremlin media, the narrative of withdrawal of the Baltic States from the BRELL network being unreasonable increased in its scale. Also in April, there was an iflux of messages about Lithuania's impotence to resist the pressure of the European Union to close the “safe and profitable” Ignalina NPP and “failure” to contstruct new power plants in Visaginas. Along with this message, a new message about the closed plant in Ignalina potentially turning into an ecological disaster for the whole region appeared and was spread actively by hostile media.
This analysis was carried out with a contribution from Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The pro-Kremlin media continued with the hitherto popular narratives about the economically unreasonable position of Lithuania towards the BelNPP; Throughout April 2021, malign information against the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP accounted for 176 (40.09% out of examined 439 that were related to the BelNPP). This shows a considerable decrease in comparison to the statistics of March (266, i.e., 44.04% out of examined 604).
Analysing the scope of disinformation against the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP several waves of the increased flow were observed during April 2021.
The first trigger of disinformation was identified on April 13th. According to the analysis, it resulted from the Lithuanian parliament discussing the introduction of a law for mandatory inspection of companies participating in the activities of the objects important for ensuring the national security. This law would restrict activities in the Lithuanian market for those companies that are potentially harmful for the national interests. Various Sputniknews websites quoted one member of Lithuanian Parliament as proposing to “get rid of hypersensitivity to some issues and do not treat simple pipes as a threat to national security”.
The second trigger that caused the biggest stir in the pro-Kremlin media stemmed from the alleged hacked BelNPP official page. The hacking happened on the eve of the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which probably was the main reason of the incident. Interestingly, most of the pro-Kremlin media (Rt.com, Ria.ru, Rambler.ru, Vesti.ru, Gazeta.ru etc.) contained only a brief information message about the incident, stating that hacking had taken place and that false information had been posted.
Meanwhile, some web pages which took a critical stance towards Alexander Lukashenko after the presidential election in Belarus (like Mk.ru, Rbc.ru, Lenta.ru) revealed way more details: according to those sources, employees fear that due to numerous security incidents, which are being concealed from the public, the tragedy of Chernobyl could recur at any time. Moreover, it was said that there was a rush to start the power plant, regardless of nuclear safety issues, and the first to be affected by the potential accident would be the same employees of the BelNPP. In addition, a couple of days later, a message appeared that the hackers who allegedly committed the incident were working from Lithuania.
On the day of the anniversary, a message on Facebook of Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda appeared who expressed concern that the world did not learn a lesson from the disaster in Ukraine because BelNPP is being constructed just 40 km away from Lithuanian capital Vilnius without complying the international nuclear safety conventions. Ria.ru, Izvestia.ru, Regnum.ru and other news websites mainly treated this announcement as a deliberate action to sow panic by raising the unreasonable parallels between Chernobyl and BelNPP which allegedly meet all the international safety standards.
It is worth noting that on the same day, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a video reportage discrediting Lithuanian position by naming it “exclusively political”, aired on the national Беларусь-1 television. There has been said that allegedly “Vilnius constantly attacks the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant” and that “entire information campaign has been launched against it”. What is more, a decommissioned Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania was said to be a real threat to regional safety:
The radioactive danger may emerge near our border if Lithuania doesn’t ensure the safety of its decommissioned Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant and a waste burial site 4 km off the Belarusian border. These fears are not unreasonable. While official Vilnius denounces the IAEA conclusions that our NPP is safe, there are several safety violations at Ignalina NPP. In 2019, the results of inspections at the Lithuanian plant were announced. There were 10 violations of technological norms, only two of which were classified as minor.
This eloquent quote reveals a clear position of the Belarusian authorities – to use offensive rhetoric to veil their own incompetence and the BelNPP problems.
The third wave on disinformation was recorded on April 28th, when the Belarusian government released and various pro-Kremlin media websites like EADaily.ru, Sputniknews.ru, Rubaltic.ru spread the message that Lithuanian representatives refused to participate in public hearings before issuing a license to operate the station's first power unit. Along with the above-mentioned information, it was reiterated that Lithuania unreasonably opposes to the construction of the BelNPP and is conducting a disinformation campaign towards the public image of Belarus despite most nuclear safety experts having confirmed its safety.
It should also be noted that rhetoric about Lithuanian nuclear projects has intensified in recent months. On the one hand, it is iterated that Lithuania allegedly opposes the BelNPP out of jealousy, as it has not been able to withstand the pressure of the European Union to close the old but safe Soviet-build Ignalina NPP and later ostensibly found no investors to develop a new project of Visaginas NPP. On the other hand, it is often repeated that the decommissioning of the Ignalina NPP is not transparent and allegedly does not comply with safety standards. And this is supposed to be a much bigger ecological problem than the BelNPP.
Articles published by the pro-Kremlin media sources covered the largest scope of the analysed data. Out of 176 articles identified with false and misleading content, 79.5% were written in Russian and 20.5% in Lithuanian (80.6% and 19.4% in March respectively). Sputniknews.ru, sputniknews.lt and baltnews.lt published the biggest share of articles containing a malign message about the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (13.1%, 9.7% and 6.8% share of all articles respectively).
During the period considered ria.ru, rambler.ru and riafan.ru shared about 45% of total contact reach of articles in April containing malign message about Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (21.5%, 15.3% and 8% of all articles respectively).