Object of manipulation
: The Belarusian military and political news website www.belvpo.com
Date: 17 May 2016
Author: Denis Gashun (Денис Гайшун)
Source of manipulation: The website delfi.lt
Date: 16 May 2016
The false fact or narrative: On 16 May, a Lithuanian army conscript died from an acute infection. The Russian-language, pro-Kremlin media used his death to criticize the Lithuanian army and a decision by the Lithuanian government to reintroduce the draft permanently.
On 17 May, a Belarus-based military and political news website belvpo.com published an article by Denis Gashun claiming that the soldier’s death demonstrated negligence by Lithuania’s political and military leadership toward its draftees. The article claimed that living conditions for U.S. and NATO soldiers in Lithuania are better than those of Lithuanian conscripts. The article also alleged that Lithuanian army commanders are demagogues—and that they spread myths about the “Russian threat” in order to please Washington—meanwhile forgetting about the needs of their own soldiers in the trenches. Since Lithuanian politics focuses on military conflict with Russia, it warned there could be more victims:
(Череда неприятностей, связанная с литовской армией, наводит мистический ужас на жителей страны и самих военнослужащих, отказывающихся служить и объявивших в ряде частей голодовку. Факт на лицо – армия Литвы деморализована, даже без воздействия со стороны России.)
Other pro-Kremlin news sites in Lithuania broadly commented on the soldier’s death, claiming that poor hygiene standards in the army’s canteens has sickened many conscripts; that his death exposed major health issues in the Lithuanian army, and that the conscript’s death reflects deficiencies in the army itself.
The truth: On 16 May, Lithuania’s Defense Ministry announced that, due to an acute infection, a 21-year-old conscript had died in the hospital. Medical tests indicated that a meningococcal infection might have caused the death. The hospital later established a cause of death, but the parents of the deceased soldier did not agree to release that information. No other soldiers were infected.
Technique: The soldier’s death was exploited to criticize Lithuania’s government and army, and implicity NATO. The intent of this story lacking proof was to create an emotionally charged, unsettling picture of alleged army mismanagement.
Audience: Russian-speaking ethnic minorities in Lithuania and the other Baltic states, as well as readers in Russia and Belarus.
Analysis: This disinformation attack is aimed at diminishing the reputation of the Lithuanian army and NATO, to weaken citizens’ trust in Lithuania, and to sow doubt and fear about Western intentions. It is likely timed to coincide with the military exercise Open Spirit 2016 held on 13 May with NATO forces, and with Flaming Sword 2016, a three-week exercise in May involving special operations forces from Lithuania, Denmark, Georgia, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine, the UK and the United States training together in the Baltic region. It may also have been intended to undermine popular support for the 3 June observance of the birth of Sajudis, Lithuania’s independence movement.