Briefs

Lithuania: 18-24 July 2016

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Pro-Kremlin media promotes the narrative that the United States plotted the coup attempt in Turkey. 

Event:  On 22 July 2016, the Lithuanian-language, pro-Kremlin website eskpertai.eu published an article—“Turkey plans to leave NATO”—claiming that US agents in Turkey shot down a Russian warplane along the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015. NATO then ordered the overthrow of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the article claims, in order to keep this fact from becoming public. In the aftermath of the 15 July failed coup attempt, the story says, Erdoğan now plans to leave NATO. On 22 July, the same website published another article—“Lithuania and abroad this week”—accusing Washington of involvement in violent incidents near Yerevan, Armenia, on 17 July, and Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 18 July.  

The false facts or narrative: The article on Turkey supposedly leaving NATO quoted the Russian propaganda website www.tsargard.tv, which first reported the alleged conspiracy about direct US involvement in the attempted coup. Turkey was vulnerable to US meddling, it continued, since its membership in NATO allowed the creation of a network of US agents in the Turkish military that was in contact with Hillary Clinton. The article also claimed that US agents shot down the Russian fighter jet to ruin relations between Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The tsargard.tv website is managed by Aleksandr Dugin, a nationalist ideologist who calls for the restoration of the Russian Empire by exerting Kremlin control over Georgia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics, Dugin also supports Russia’s unification with Russian-speaking territories, especially eastern Ukraine and Crimea

The region’s pro-Kremlin media often advocates a new Eurasian association that combines the existing EU with Putin’s Eurasian Union. Aleksandr Nosovich of rubaltic.ru called for such an organization during the visit of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June. Nosovich wrote that such an entity would oust the Americans from Europe. 

Vadim Volovoj, author of the 22 July column in eskpertai.eu, suggested that unnamed US “hawks” might have had also plotted terrorist attacks in Armenia on 17 July and in Kazakhstan the following day in order to destabilize those two countries, both long-time allies of Russia. Volovoj argues that this is part of a US “pattern” of destabilization also used in Ukraine—which he called Russia’s “unhealing wound”—but he did not describe the pattern. He repeated the accusation that US forces shot down the Russian warplane last November and that Washington initiated the coup in Turkey.

Reality on the ground: Turkey is a leading NATO member and plays a key role in Syria’s civil war. For the EU, it is an important partner in regional attempts to solve the refugee crisis, so any upheaval has major global and regional consequences. Following the coup attempt, world powers appealed for calm and urged Turkey to respect its democratic institutions. According to aljaazeera.com, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Erdoğan that exploiting the attempted coup to crack down on detractors would undermine Turkish democracy and could cost Turkey its NATO membership, but there is no evidence the US was involved in the coup against Erdoğan.

On 24 November 2015, Turkish F-16 warplanes shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter along the Turkish-Syrian border because, according to the Turkish government, two aircraft of unknown nationality had violated Turkish airspace. Russia insisted that its aircraft were not involved, though Putin later claimed that Russia notified the US in advance about the flight of Russian military aircraft. US officials deny they ever received such notification. Diplomatic contacts between Ankara and Moscow ceased after that incident, though recent weeks have seen a rapprochement. 

On 17 July, 20 armed supporters of jailed opposition leader Jirair Sefilian attacked a police station in Yerevan, Armenia, and demanded the release of Sefilian, who had been arrested a month earlier. Jiriar had urged the Armenian government to resign. A day later, ultraconservative Muslims staged an attack in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, killing four people. There is no evidence of any US involvement in either incident.

Techniques: 
  • Disinformation, 
  • manipulation, 
  • spreading rumors and doubts, and testing reactions. 
Articles refer to other articles that also contain inaccurate information. Statements are not supported by facts, and published information may be intentionally false. A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truthful information with falsehoods to make it all seem more credible.

Audience: Lithuanian and Russian-speaking segments of society in Lithuania, the Baltic states, the West, and Russian society, as well as readers in Armenia and Kazakhstan.

Impact and analysis: These false disinformation narratives are aimed at undermining the credibility of NATO and the United States. They are more believable because they try to explain important, complex events that have a major impact on societies. In two of the countries involved—Turkey, and Armenia—anti-Americanism in public opinion is strong.