Refugees, sanctions, and military aid became targets of Kremlin disinformation about war in Ukraine

In its alternative universe, where the invasion to Ukraine is not actually an act of war but a 'special military operation', the Kremlin uses a wide array of new and reused narratives to sway the public opinion. In the Baltic countries, disiformation targeted topics ranging from Ukrainian refugees and Kyiv's efforts to join the European Union, to accusations of 'falsely blaming' the Russian army for 'faked' war crimes.


The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout June 26-July 4, 2022, including new or shifting narratives and key cases. These development and insights primarily relate to narratives about the following themes:


  • Events of the Russia-Ukraine War

  • (Negative) Economic Consequences of Sanctions

  • Refugees

  • Conditions of Russians and Russian-speaking Minorities

  • Military Threats to Eastern Europe/Risk of War Expanding Beyond Ukraine

  • Military Aid to Ukraine


Note: Sources included into the scope of monitoring include Hostile State-Aligned Media and Social Media. “Interactions” refers to each time that a post was actively engaged with or responded to on a particular platform. For example, Facebook interactions encompass comments, shares, likes, and other reactions, and Twitter interactions encompass likes and re-tweets. The figures quoted in this report are the sum total of interactions across Twitter and Facebook unless otherwise specified.


ESTONIA


Overview:

  • Over the reporting period, Estonian-language pro-Kremlin social media segment shared only a few stories related to the war in Ukraine. The possible explanation is that Kremlin prioritizes targeting local Russian-speaking population rather than limited in size and hardly persuadable Estonian-speaking audiences.

  • The Russian missile attack on Kremenchuk was portrayed as staged by Ukrainians themselves to attract more Western financial and logistical support.

  • Unlike in previous weeks, we did not identify stories about the sanctions damaging the West itself, or threats connected with military support to Ukraine. Instead, several stories aimed to discredit Ukrainian refugees.

  • Pro-Kremlin voices say Ukrainian refugees do not follow local laws and customs, refuse to take jobs in Estonia, speak Russian and maintain a Soviet mentality.

  • Estonian inflation was the fastest in the euro area, at 22% in June, hence disinformation on the economic consequences of sanctions might increase in the weeks to come.

  • The Estonian president criticised PM Kaja Kallas’ statement in her interview for the Financial Times that, in the event of a Russian attack, the entire Estonian state and people would probably be destroyed. Hence, Estonian People’s Conservative Party (EKRE), the primary spreader of disinformation in Estonia, will have more grounds to criticise Kaja Kallas for her firm stance on the war in Ukraine.


For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 3,900 interactions.





Key examples:


  • Ukrainian refugees break common norms and even laws in Estonia [Uued Uudised]

Estonian media only covers circumstances in which Ukrainian refugees are disillusioned by the state (namely, high accommodation rent costs), wanting to return to their homeland, while the media is absolutely not interested in the facts when Ukrainian refugees disturb the locals, break common norms, and even laws of Estonia


  • By joining the EU, Ukrainians will lose their nation state and only have stupid restrictions and regulations [Uued Uudised]

The author of the article, Urmas Reitelmann, is a member of Conservative People's Party of Estonia. The politician has been the target of scandals on several occasions for insulting his fellow citizens (calling them "parasites" or "sodomites"). He claims that the EU destroys nation states, as it will do with Ukraine someday, especially through having pan-European lists for the European Parliament elections; there is little hope that Estonians will get into these lists.


“And then I was reminded of the recent jubilation over Ukraine's candidacy for EU membership. What are you unhappy people rejoicing about? You should be rejoicing today, when you are not yet part of the slave camp. You probably have no idea of the fate that awaits your nation state, for whose survival you are today shedding blood. Of course, there is something greasy in store for some, but for 99.99% of Ukrainians, it is only stupid restrictions and regulations.”


LATVIA


Overview:

  • Latvian-language pro-Kremlin social media segment produced only a few stories related to the war in Ukraine, which attracted modest audience engagement. A possible explanation is that the Kremlin prioritizes targeting local Russian-speaking populations (see the specific chapter in this Report for more information) rather than the limited in size and hardly persuadable Latvian-speaking audiences.

  • The stories we identified related to Ukrainian refugees and military support to Ukraine. On the former, the articles claimed that as a result of the influx of migrants from Ukraine and Africa, Latvia's demographic composition is changing, and its national identity is under threat. Messengers were warning Latvia against military support to Ukraine in order to avoid being drawn into the war: “The open transfer of weapons by many countries to Ukraine, with which it is killing Putin, is also a form of warfare”. They were also threatening WW3 - in particular, as a result of Sweden and Finland entering NATO.


For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 2,900 interactions.