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Latvia: 19-25 September 2016

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A Latvian pro-Kremlin website misquotes Obama’s UN speech in order to make it sound complimentary to the Kremlin’s foreign policy.

Event: On 21 September, Latvia’s pro-Kremlin, Russian-language website published a news article that focused on President Obama’s address to the United Nations General Assembly.

The false fact or narrative: The article, titled “Obama: Strong Russia brings glory to the world,” was republished from Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti. It quoted Obama as saying “we see Russia attempting to recover lost glory through force.” Simultaneously, the report stressed that the Kremlin pursues a benign foreign policy. It told viewers that Russian President Vladimir Putin has frequently declared he seeks a constructive dialogue with all countries, and that Russia aspires towards world peace. It quoted Putin as declaring that “Russia is at any moment ready for broad cooperation with the U.S. The prospects for cooperation will, however, depend on the policies of the next U.S. leadership.” The article also cited Putin’s view that Washington “in many cases does not ask the opinion of other parties. Specifically, this applies to NATO enlargement eastward and a unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.”

Reality on the ground: The title of the article implies that Obama did not compliment Russia in his UN speech. In fact, Obama’s critical comments pointed to the anachronistic nature of Russian policy which in “a world that left the age of empire behind” intends to restore the Russian empire and its glory. Notably, the misleading title did not appear in the original RIA Novosti article, but was changed by the Latvian news portal—apparently to make Obama more sympathetic to Russia’s global ambitions. The RIA Novosti title presented Obama’s statement in a more accurate manner: “Obama claims that ‘Russia establishes its glory through force’”.Putin’s statement on Russia’s peaceful foreign policy contradicts its aggressive behavior in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. In each case, Kremlin-supported warfare has killed many civilians, undermining Russia’s peaceful image. Though he shows goodwill toward the United States, Putin—as quoted in both stories—clearly blames the White House for the current freeze and implies that relations can improve quickly if Washington accepts Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its intervention in eastern Ukraine and its support of the Assad regime in Syria. The article ignores the fact that NATO enlargement was actually negotiated among all member states, and that the three Baltic states as well as Central and Eastern Europe were most eager supporters of enlargement. Moreover, during the expansion process, Russia cooperated with NATO through the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security and the NATO Political Committee.

Technique: Misleading title, card stacking.

Audience: Latvia’s Russian-speaking community.

Analysis: This disinformation case illuminates how pro-Kremlin media would like Russia to be seen on the international stage. It presents Russia as a peaceful state with a great history and on a mission to improve the world. The United States, meanwhile, is framed as a main rival with which Russia is still ready to cooperate if it only respects Russia’s special place in the world.