A Lithuanian-language, pro-Kremlin website quotes Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying that the West has invented claims of a “Russian military threat” to justify larger defense budgets.
Event: On 29 October, the Lithuanian-language, pro-Kremlin website ekspertai.eu cited Russian President Vladimir Putin—in his speech at the 13th Valdai Discussion Club, held 24-27 October—as saying that NATO was an obsolete Cold War relic that has failed to adapt to the new global reality, and that the West must invent a false Russian military threat to serve the political interests of NATO member states and increase their defense budgets. The false fact or narrative: The key themes of Putin’s speech were the world’s future, Russia’s future, and the need for dialogue and following the rule of law—as well as Russia’s desire to get out of the “vicious circle” of mutual accusations with the West, and with the United States in particular. Putin denied interfering in the U.S. presidential elections, calling such allegations “hysteria fueled within the U.S. to divert public attention from the serious problems within the country.” Ekspertai.eu apparently cited the official Russian website kremlin.ru to show it relies on reliable sources. Yet the site quoted Putin’s speech selectively. It did not elaborate on comments that would detract from his image as a peacemaker: that Russia was committed to the dialogue but would never make concessions without reciprocity, that the Kremlin was disappointed in the positions of the Western elites, including the issue of Syria, or that Russia still insists on the need for universal and stable rules of the global order.
Reality on the ground: Putin’s remarks were in sharp contrast to the facts. He accepted no responsibility for Russia’s role in the deterioration of relations—especially its annexation of Crimea, its invasion of eastern Ukraine and its support of the brutal Assad dictatorship in Syria.
Technique: False facts, denying facts, card stacking, creating a context.
Audience: Lithuanian society and Western public opinion.
Analysis: Putin intended his Valdai remarks to create the impression that Russia is a constructive partner committed to dialogue. He also aimed to depict the United States and NATO as unwilling to cooperate with Russia. Putin used a classical method of manipulation in his remarks; he was outwardly sympathetic toward his opponent’s position and used language the West wanted to hear—even as he ignored facts that are inconvenient for Russia. For example, he spoke about “the need for dialogue” and “observance of the rules of the international order.” This rhetoric made him sound like a peacemaker, contrasting with his international image as a tough guy and an uncompromising critic of the West. In any case, Putin’s remarks had only limited success in convincing his critics. On 28 October, Russia failed to win re-election to the UN Human Rights Council—one of the UN’s most important organs.