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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Lithuanian-language pro-Kremlin social media segment produced only a handful of stories related to the war in Ukraine. The possible explanation is that the Kremlin prioritizes targeting local Russian-speaking population (see the chapter in this Report for more information) rather than the limited in size and hardly persuadable Lithuanian-speaking audiences.
The only trend that we can observe is that a number of articles detail the recent Kaliningrad controversy. As the Kremlin is expecting a diplomatic resolution of the issue (and some statements from the EU, in particular from the Polish PM, allow us to assume that there is some progress in that), the Kaliningrad topic has almost disappeared from the Kremlin propaganda discourse everywhere but in Lithuania. There, it is still used to alarm local society and discredit the local government that allegedly wants to provoke Lithuania’s direct engagement in the war. A significant share of all the stories identified this week were dedicated to this topic.
A series of articles were identified that “exposed” hidden interests behind the war in Ukraine, and these stories were rather successful. Stories of NATO and US laundering money in Ukrainian war, and that a Lithuanian MP’s statement that the West is establishing a dictatorship in Ukraine, collected relatively high engagement figures. A story “exposing” Ukrainian war propaganda also attracted public attention, connecting it with anti-Covid myths and conspiracies: “Ukrainian war legends, like the benefits of vaccines, are not based on facts but on faith. Without faith, they fall apart.”
A blogger known as Viesulas22 attacked the charity campaign that called for bicycle donations to Ukrainian refugee children. The blogger questioned the validity of the organisers of the action, and accused them of neglecting the problems of the Lithuanian poor. “Bicycles for Ukrainian children. For Lithuanian children... the hole of a doughnut!” The story reached more than 10,000 individuals.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 2,900 interactions.
The Ukraine War Disinfo Working Group unites 10 think tanks and research groups, which are working non-stop to monitor Kremlin propaganda in 11 countries.
Our partners: Civic Resilience Innitiative (Lithuania), Analyses and Alternatives (Bulgaria), Prague Security Studies Initiative (Czechia), GRASS (Georgia), Atlatszo (Hungary), MOST (North Macedonia), Fakenews.pl (Poland), Slovak Security Policy Institute (Slovakia), Detector Media (Ukraine).