Lithuania - 24-31 May 2016

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Object of manipulation:, a Russian-language website serving the Baltics.

Date: 24 May 2016
Title: Alexander Rahr: NATO will make a half-hearted decision” (НАТО примет в Варшаве половинчатые решения)

Author: Aleksandr Shamshiev (Александр Шамшиев)

Source of manipulation: Interview with Alexander Rahr, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, about the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw.

The false fact or narrative: On 24 May, the website published an interview with political analyst Alexander Rahr, who is well known for his usually pro-Kremlin views. In it, he said that the West had violated the NATO-Russia “treaty” of 1997—in which NATO supposedly promised that it would not expand to the Russian border. According to Rahr, the West claimed that because Russia had occupied Crimea, NATO’s policies toward Russia aimed at goodwill and cooperation should now be changed. Yet he said it would be difficult to reach consensus at the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw on strengthening the military presence in Eastern Europe because France and Germany want to cooperate with Russia in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East.

According to Rahr, Washington has been waiting for 20 years for an opportunity to strengthen its military presence in Eastern Europe; it now intends to take advantage of the Ukrainian crisis in order to do so. On the other hand, countries such as Poland and the Baltic states—which viewed NATO in terms of the 1990s and conflict with Russia—do not understand that by the time they joined NATO in 2004, the organization had changed.

The truth: It is a myth perpetuated by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine that in 1997, NATO promised Russia it would not establish permanent military bases in any former Warsaw Pact countries that might someday become NATO members. This false interpretation is a consequence of the lack of research and basic knowledge among commentators, politicians and policy-makers in the West.  

During his 26 May visit to Lithuania, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Berlin would meet its obligations in boosting the security of NATO’s eastern flank. Media reported that the Warsaw summit would confirm a significant shift in NATO’s military posture—with four or five battalions sent to Poland and the Baltic states in the first permanent positioning of alliance troops east of the former Iron Curtain since the end of the Cold War.

Lithuania’s mainstream media quoted Steinmeier as saying that the summit would discuss ways of enhancing NATO’s participation among member states in Eastern Europe. All actions, he said, would be based on the core of NATO’s philosophy: deterrence and tension reduction. The NATO-Russia Council is to meet again before the summit. In fact, two days of talks among NATO foreign ministers in Brussels ahead of the alliance’s biennial summit in Warsaw have been dominated by a Franco-German push for some form of tentative rapprochement with Russia—even as NATO finalizes plans to reinforce its Eastern flank. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there was “broad agreement” among allies that talks with Russia must be opened in parallel with reinforcement measures. It is about both defense and dialogue.

Technique: Testimonial, signaling and testing the reaction. The expert’s arguments support the Kremlin’s position that NATO is the aggressor, that the United States wants to dominate Europe and that the Baltic states are paranoid about Russia—but that other NATO member states do not share their position. Manipulation is strengthened because the expert is not concrete or exact, but rather prefers to speak in generalities.

Audience: Russian-speaking segments of society in Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and the West, and in Russia itself. The Russian-speaking audience in Lithuania is mixed and includes many ethnic minorities such as Russians, Poles, Tatars, Jews and Belarussians, as well as Lithuanians whose second language is Russian. It also targets Lithuanians between 30 and 70 years old who grew up on the conspiracy theories upon which Soviet ideology was based.

Analysis: NATO’s pending summit in Warsaw is among the top news stories in Russian and Lithuanian media. The narrative argues that NATO is an aggressor and so is the United States, because it always had an interest to rule Europe. This narrative blames Washington for increasing tensions in Europe and aims to undermine NATO’s reputation, claiming that the alliance is divided over whether to enhance its military presence in Eastern Europe. Germany and France, it says, not want to do so. It portrays Russia as a victim while creating the impression that it is Russia which wants the Russia-NATO dialogue, and that Russia is an important partner which the West needs. Finally, it keeps up the narrative that the Baltic states are paranoid about Russian aggression.