As several statements by members of international community were issued about the progress made regarding the safety of Belarusian NPP, the pro-Kremlin media interpreted them as a clear evidence that the Lithuanian claims are baseless, inadequate, and driven by jealousy. Recent offer by Lithuania for Ukraine to boycott the electricity produced in the BelNPP instigated rather drastic assessments as well, interpreting that Lithuania, in the name of solidarity, offers Ukrainians to freeze to death.
This analysis was carried out with a contribution from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania
Throughout March 2021, malign information against the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP accounted for 266 articles (44.04 % out of examined 604 that were related to the BelNPP). Out of false content pieces, disinformation constituted 90.6% while misinformation – 9.4% of the articles that were published by the Kremlin-funded (or affiliated) media outlets, and hostile activity on social media.
Joint analysis of DebunkEU.org and Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has shown that several waves of the increased flow were observed during March 2021. According to DebunkEU.org senior analyst Algirdas Kazlauskas, the first trigger was identified on the evening of March 3rd when the ENSREG adopted a peer reviewed report, based on the conclusions issued by the experts who visited the BelNPP back in February. “The preliminary report concluded that the progress has been made by the Belarusian side implementing recommendations related to the priority issues from the 2018 ENSREG stress test report. Kremlin related media presented this as a clear victory of Belarus against Lithuanian claims on the unsafety issues of the plant” says Mr. Kazlauskas. However, Lithuanian officials pointed out that there was a total of 29 recommendations addressed to Belarus of which only eight have been partially implemented, and urged that the second stage of the review should be completed as soon as possible.
The very next day a joint annual report of the Lithuanian security services was published. It was noted that the BelNPP is a very pretentious Russian project and that Belarus simply lacks the competence in managing the processes and solving emerging problems. “The report mentioned that possibility of Belarus abandoning the operation of the power plant and making it into a branch of Rosatom is already being considered”, emphasises Mr Kazlauskas. In the report, a concern was also raised that Belarus seeks to bypass restrictions on trade and intends to sell on the Baltic market the electricity produced at the BelNPP. “Publication received a considerable attention in pro-Kremlin media which presented these statements of Lithuanian authorities in an ironic manner” says DebunkEU.org expert.
According to the analysis, the second biggest wave of disinformation emerged on March 18th, which aligned with two significant statements. During the official visit of the President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda and members of the Lithuanian government to Ukraine, a joint statement by Lithuania and Ukraine was made to strengeten mutual cooperation and partnership in the field of energy politics. “Consequently, pro-Kremlin media ironically emphasised that both nations allegedly seek unreasonable goals of energy independence and regional prohibition of electricity trade from the unsafe nuclear power plant in Belarus. Undoubtedly, the rise of disinformation against Ukraine was directly related to the tensions at the Russian-Ukrainian border” says Mr Kazlauskas.
Another statement appeared when during an online session in the European Parliament, the head of the IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi answered a question about the safety issues regarding the BelNPP. “He stated that despite the need of some important improvements he sees no reason why that plant could not operate,” explains Mr Kazlauskas, “which widely amplified via different pro-Kremlin media sources submitting that Lithuania has no ground to criticize the BelNPP on the safety issues. Lithuania was also accused of being jealous of Belarus who managed to build their own nuclear power plant while Lithuania did not”.
In addition to the aforementioned events, several messages appeared discrediting Lithuanian politicians by portraying them as unreasonable. “For example, during the official visit of the President of Lithuania to Ukraine, the Kremlin related media blamed Lithuanian authorities for allegedly proposing Ukrainians to boycott the BelNPP and to freeze to death in the name of a political friendship” says the analyst.
According to DebunkEU.org and LMFA data, the pro-Kremlin media also used various argumentation to discredit the Baltic states initiative to withdraw from the BRELL energy ring. “It was asserted that the real beneficiary and the driving force beneath this move is the NATO Energy Security Centre in Lithuania. Moreover, there were messages raising fears that Lithuania will suffer an electricity blackout if does not stop implementing the withdrawal from BRELL procedures” lists Mr. Kazlauskas.
In March, the scope of disinformation about Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (in comparison with February) slightly decreased. Out of 266 articles identified with false and misleading content, 80.6% were written in Russian and 19.4% in Lithuanian (80% and 20% in February respectively).
Sputniknews.lt, sputniknews.ru and baltnews.lt published the biggest share of articles containing a malign message about the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (13.9%, 13.5% and 7.5% share of all articles respectively).
During the period considered lenta.ru, ria.ru and regnum.ru shared more than a half of total contact reach of articles in March containing malign message about Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (20.6%, 18.9% and 12.1% of all articles respectively).