Briefs

Lithuania: 25-31 July 2016

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A pro-Moscow website in Kaliningrad reports that the naming of the head of the regional FSB as Kaliningrad’s new acting governor is a response to NATO militarization.

Event:  On 28 July, Kaliningrad-based Russian-language website rubaltic.ru published an article arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Major Gen. Evgeniy Zinichev—head of the Kaliningrad Federal Security Service (FSB)—as the acting regional governor of the Kaliningrad region following Western provocations. According to the story, these included NATO militarization of the Baltics, an extensive information war by Lithuania and Poland against Russia and the high level of Western intelligence activity in the region. Rubaltic.ru is a self-described “analytical” website serving the Baltics and run by Kaliningrad’s Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University.
   
The false facts or narrative: The article, written by Aleksandr Nosovich—who is widely known for his pro-Kremlin views—claims Moscow is reacting to NATO’s heightened military presence in the region. The “aggressive rhetoric of Poland and Lithuania as well as the deployment of NATO military infrastructure near the Russian border,” he wrote, force the Kremlin to “strengthen the role of the security forces” in western Russia. He added that Western journalists, experts and politicians consider Kaliningrad a “threatening monster,” forcing Russia to reconsider its plan to develop that region as a “window to Europe” fostering economic, scientific, cultural and educational cooperation with the West.  

Nosovich, who called Kaliningrad a “powder keg,” a “gun to the European temple” and “Moscow’s unsinkable aircraft carrier,” claims Poland and Lithuania have launched a major anti-Kaliningrad information warfare campaign in Europe. He alleges that the intelligence services of NATO member states also are very active in the region, noting sarcastically that “thanks to the Western partners, the Kaliningrad region is exposed to new challenges, necessitating Zinichev’s appointment. 

Reality on the ground: The article repeats Moscow’s longstanding argument that Russia must defend itself from NATO’s aggressive behavior. Yet it ignores provocative Russian moves such as the new 11th Army Corps in Kaliningrad and Putin’s plans to deploy three new army divisions in the Baltic region. Nor does not mention that Zinichev’s appointment may be linked to Putin’s recent high-level reshuffle of personnel. On 28 July, he replaced three governors, five regional presidential officials and the head of the Russian Federal Customs Service. The new appointees have two characteristics in common: ties to the security services and apparent loyalty to Putin. These moves suggest the Zinichev promotion, rather than being a response to NATO, may be part of a general reformatting of the regime which will strengthen Putin’s power in the long term, tighten Kremlin control of the regions and prepare for the possibility that Duma elections this fall could lead to domestic unrest. Also omitted is the fact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its March 2014 annexation of Crimea seriously damaged ties with the European Union, which responded by slapping sanctions on Russia. Despite Moscow’s subsequent ban on some EU imports, Brussels recently extended those sanctions until January 2017 due to Russia’s noncompliance with the Minsk II agreement.

Techniques: 
  • Card stacking; 
  • conspiracy theory; 
  • statements without proof.

Audience: Russian-speaking segments of society in Lithuania, the Baltic states, Russia’s Kaliningrad region, the West and Russian domestic audiences—as well as Lithuanians whose second language is Russian and who have watched and read Russian media since Soviet times.  

Impact and analysis: The article repeats familiar Kremlin narratives: that NATO is an aggressor, that the Baltic region is being militarized and is full of Western secret services, and that the threat to Russia from the West is very serious. Therefore a high-ranking Federal Security Service representative must govern the Kaliningrad region. Its reiterates the Kremlin’s recent softer foreign policy line aimed at prompting the EU to lift sanctions: Russia is a victim, it seeks dialogue, and it’s ready to cooperate with the West despite its unwillingness to improve relations. Finally, the article tries to show how Polish and Lithuanian paranoia about Russia’s ambitions causes major problems inside the EU and NATO.