Briefs

Lithuania - 19-25 June 2016

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  • Lietuva- 19-27 birželis  Šį straipsnį taip pat galite skaityti lietuvių kalba
Russia attempts to shift attention away from its non-fulfillment of the Minsk II agreement to the need for greater engagement with the West.

Object of manipulation: www.ekspertai.eu, a pro-Kremlin, Lithuanian-language website founded in 2007 that often opposes the government. In 2009, the site criticized the European Union’s designation of Vilnius as a European Capital of Culture—apparently as a way to discredit the EU and to show that Lithuania does not live up to its EU obligations (Vilnius was the first city in the former Soviet Union to be designated as such).  The website’s founder, Andrius Nakas, is a former actor who has been accused of drug possession. The source of its funding is unknown.  Nakas is an anti-government member of Lithuania’s parliament.  
Date: 19 June 2016

Object of manipulation: www.rubaltic.ru, a Russian-language news website focusing on the Baltic states and based in Kaliningrad, Russia.
Date: 20 June 2016

Source of manipulation: www.bild.de, the website of the German mainstream newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
Date: 18 June 2016
Author: von Burkhard Uhlenbroich 

The manipulative (false) narrative: The website www.ekspertai.eu, often described as pro-Kremlin, reported that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe and called for more active cooperation with Russia. The website referred to Steinmeier’s 18 June interview in the online newsmagazine Bild am Sonntag. It quoted Steinmeier as saying it was wrong to think that a “symbolic tank parade on the eastern border of the Alliance” (a reference to recent NATO exercises in Poland, the Baltic states, Germany, Sweden and Finland) would provide more security for the region. According to Steinmeier, NATO and the EU member states should not give Moscow a new pretext for confrontation that would be reminiscent of the Cold War. Steinmeier, referring to Russia’s recent military buildup in Kaliningrad and along the NATO-Russia border, as well as its recent military exercises, called for a dialogue with Russia.  

The Russian–language, pro-Kremlin news website www.rubaltic.ru referred to Steinmeier’s interview in an article published on 20 June alleging that Russia is a victim of hostile and unjust attitudes by top Lithuanian officials. The article described Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius as a key promoter of a “deterrence” policy towards Russia. It used the term “deterrence” in an ironic way, as if Linkevičius were paranoid about Russia threatening the West, in contrast to Steinmeier’s more benign intentions It accused Linkevičius of rejecting the Kremlin’s other constructive initiatives without naming those initiatives. Finally, the article agreed with Steinmeier that there was a need for improved Russia-NATO direct dialogue as an instrument for ensuring security in Europe.   

Facts on the ground: Russia sees NATO’s increased military presence on the alliance’s eastern flank as provocative and seeks to undermine the alliance. NATO says its moves are a defensive response to Russia’s military buildup in Kaliningrad, its annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine, and its cyber-attacks on the West. Russia has been following closely the NATO summit in Warsaw set for 8-9 July and has been calling for dialogue to weaken the alliance. In particular, the Kremlin has sought to take advantage of declarations by French and German officials for greater NATO engagement with Russia.  

Russia seeks a rollback of EU sanctions imposed in the wake of its 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent invasion of eastern Ukraine. Although the EU recently extended those sanctions until 31 December 2016, Russia tries to appear as if it is a constructive player in order to exploit differences in the EU over sanctions—even while it shows no sign of having abandoned its goal of blocking closer Ukrainian ties with the West. It thus welcomed Steinmeier’s comments and exploited them. In response, Steinmeier rejected widespread criticism that he was acting as an “advocate for the Kremlin.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who disagrees with Steinmeier, has said repeatedly that the EU’s sanctions against Russia can only be lifted once a peace agreement to end the conflict in Ukraine is fully implemented. Their public differences have created the widespread impression that the German government is divided over how to deal with Russia.

Technique: Testimonial and signaling; testing the reaction. A very high official, Germany’s foreign minister, is quoted discussing the dialogue with Russia. The dialogue is introduced into public discourse as a way of shifting the focus from discussing Russia’s involvement in war against Ukraine and Russia’s non-fulillement of the Minsk II Agreements. The ekspertai.eu article does not present any context to the problem or an alternative view while the rubaltic article presents an inaccurate interpretation. 
 
Audience: Lithuanian and Russian-speaking segments of society in Lithuania, the Baltic states, the West, and Russia itself.

Analysis: The story reflects an escalation of narratives: NATO and the EU are divided about its relationship with Russia.  On the one hand, the Baltic states are deeply concerned about what they see as a Russian threat, while Russia is seen as less of a threat by France, Germany and some other NATO members who are more concerned about other aspects of their relationship with Moscow, or other issues entirely.  The article intentionally tries to portray Linkevičius as hostile to Russia by repeating the inaccurate narrative that Russia is surrounded by enemies, including the Baltic states.