Briefs

Lithuania: 4-10 July 2016

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Pro-Kremlin media promotes the narrative that Lithuania is trying to provoke a war with Russia. 

Event:  On 3 July 2016, www.ekspertai.eu—a Lithuanian-language, pro-Kremlin website—published an article, “Military tension between NATO and Russia grows thanks to Lithuania’s active efforts.” The piece argues that Lithuania may provoke a war with Russia only organizing a provocation somewhere near Latvia, Russia or Lithuania.

The false facts or narrative: According to ekspertai.eu, mainstream news websites have confirmed that Russia was forced to consolidate its military forces on the Russia-EU border, that the situation is very serious, and that any provocation might spark a conflict. The website quoted Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu as saying that “Russia’s Ministry of Defense took measures to repel increased NATO forces deployed in the immediate vicinity of the Russian border.” The article also cited Russian-language, pro-Kremlin websites ria.ru and izvestia.ru, saying that Shoygu accused NATO of undermining stability in Europe. In addition, it cited the mainstream Lithuanian news website delfi.lt— which regularly reports on comments by top Russian officials—as warning the Russia would “retaliate” for NATO’s increased military presence near its borders by deploying two new divisions in the area.   

Facts on the ground: In 2014, Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine, the first forcible change to a European border since 1945. Russia then invaded eastern Ukraine, and has since conducted a series of military exercises to rehearse the invasion of other neighboring countries, including the Baltic states. Russia frequently sends aircraft to test the airspace of NATO’s eastern members. Those countries—particularly ones that border Russia—want assurances that they will not share the same fate as Ukraine. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, in an interview on the eve of the NATO summit in Warsaw, disagreed with the accusation that Lithuania wants to provoke Russia.  

At the Wales NATO summit in 2014, alliance leaders agreed on a “Readiness Action Plan” to strengthen the defense of its most vulnerable members. The NATO Summit in Warsaw on 8-9 July approved the deployment of combat units on a temporary basis as well as their rotation so that, at any given moment, NATO forces will be deployed in its most vulnerable member states. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland will each get one infantry battalion.

Technique: 
  • Manipulation, 
  • spreading of rumors, anxiety, fear, and testing reaction. 
The article’s argument is built in a primitive way: it refers to another, somewhat more reliable media source, but takes that information out of context and turns it around in order to convey the false message that Russia is forced to defend itself. The chosen arguments are biased. For example, Russia’s defense minister is quoted as saying that Russia would form two new divisions along its borders with Belarus and the Baltics without mentioning the reason behind the tension: the war in Ukraine and the stalled Minsk agreement. Nor is their any official reaction from Lithuanian or Belorussian officials.

Audience: Lithuanian- and Russian-speaking segments of society in Lithuania, the Baltic states, the West and Russia itself.

Impact and analysis: Official and unofficial Russian sources repeat—in many different ways—the narrative that NATO is an aggressor. The purpose is to keep up consistent background information: that NATO causes regional tension, that alliance activities are provocative, and that decisions taken during the NATO summit in Warsaw will undermine European stability. 

Another narrative—that Russia is a victim of the West but that it must defend itself and will not give up—is aimed at is Russian society. It also is intended to spread anxiety among Russian-speaking segments of societies in the Baltic states as well as sympathetic audiences in the West. 

A third narrative, that Lithuania is a dangerous troublemaker which might provoke a war, is intended to tarnish Lithuania’s reputation. The article does not provide accurate background on the region’s geopolitical situation, such as Russia’s military exercises near the Baltic states, its provocative military flights over the Baltic Sea—which directly endanger passenger flights— or the status of the Minsk II agreement to end the fighting in Ukraine conflict, whose provisions Russia and the fighters it sponsors in eastern Ukraine repeatedly violate.