Briefs

Lithuania: 5-11 September 2016

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Pro-Kremlin media uses press revelations of a poorly managed procurement deal by the Lithuanian defense sector to undermine the government’s credibility,

Event: On 30 August, Lithuania’s public procurement office sparked a fierce public debate when it announced that the Lithuanian Army had spent €4,000— about eight times the market value—on knives, ladles, strainers, forks, cutting boards and other kitchen items. The scandal broke during parliamentary campaigning leading to Lithuania’s Oct. 9 elections. Following public outrage, the Lithuanian government canceled the deal and began an investigation. Some pro-Kremlin media used the controversy to show that Lithuania is poorly managed and that major disagreements plague its political elite. Others in Lithuania, such as ekspertai.eu, and in Russia, such as rubaltic.ru, ria.ru and regnum.ru, claim the scandal is just a political show organized by Lithuania’s opposition party in the run-up to the elections, and that in reality neither side intends to fight corruption. 

The false facts or narrative: On 3 September, the pro-Kremlin website ekspertai.eu argued that the government should fight corruption year-round, and not just use such efforts for favorable publicity during the parliamentary election campaign. Four days later, rubaltic.ru—a Russian-language website targeting the Baltics—published an article by pro-Kremlin journalist Aleksandr Nosovich insisting that “in reality, nobody fights corruption in Lithuania. It’s [parliamentary] election campaign time now. With its completion, the government of Lithuania will steal as it did before.”
  
Reality on the ground: The scandal angered many of Lithuania’s top officials, media, and the opposition, although mismanagement of the procurement process also took place during their time in power, according to delfi.lt. The case has hurt the public’s view of the Lithuanian Army. In September,  its popularity was down 9 percent compared to July. Some defense analysts argue that the scandal has weakened the government’s ongoing efforts to cultivate public support for an increase in defense spending, now about 1.5 percent of the country’s GDP. 

Technique: 
  • Card-stacking. 

Audience: Lithuanians and Russian speakers in Lithuania, the Baltics and the West; Russian society. 

Impact and analysis: Lithuania’s mainstream media has not dug deeply into the reasons behind the scandal, nor provided much context to the story. A major focus has been to treat the controversy as a product of interparty competition during the electoral campaign. Anti-government outlets—especially Russian-language media—uses the government’s mistakes to show that Lithuania is poorly managed and corrupt, thereby undermining its westward orientation.