On 3 April, Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite – along with the presidents of Latvia and Estonia – attended a summit of the Baltic countries in Washington, D.C. hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House. The summit confirmed broad U.S. support for the region’s military and energy security. The four presidents adopted a joint political declaration reaffirming the ironclad commitment of all four countries to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which defines the core principle of NATO’s defense: all for one, one for all. The United States committed itself to continue the deployment of forces to the Baltic States, and the parties agreed to find solutions to air defense security, both bilaterally and within NATO.
The summit came under criticism from pro-Kremlin media outlets, Sputniknews.lt, rubaltic.ru, baltnews.lt, and ekspertai.eu. Their coverage tried to sow doubts among Lithuanians about the pro-Western course of the country’s foreign, defense, and security policies.
Ekspertai.eu published an article by Rolandas Paksas, the impeached former president of Lithuania, who stated that “the meeting of the Baltic Presidents with the U.S. President . . . demonstrated how hollow, single minded, and provocative is the current foreign policy of Lithuania.” The author criticized the enhanced American military presence in Lithuania, arguing that this could provoke a military response from Russia and increase political and military tension in the region. He also accused the Lithuanian president of “blackmailing” other NATO members states to contribute two percent of their GDP to their defense. He claimed that Grybauskaite sides not with the Trump’s political supporters, but rather with the U.S. politicians who are against cooperation with Russia. According to Paksas, the U.S. is only interested in “the profit generation from its weapons sales to the Baltic States.”
The article was published a day after the Trump administration imposed major sanctions against 24 Russian diplomats in the United States in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other “malign activity.” However, Paksas did not discuss the reasons for the expansion of sanctions, apparently because it would have weakened his argument. On the other hand, Paksas could hardly have been expected to say much else; in 2004, when Lithuania joined NATO and the European Union, he was the first European leader to be impeached and removed from the office because of his dealings with a Lithuanian-Russian businessman who had links to Russian organized crime. Nor is it clear how Paksas – currently a member of the European Parliament – earned a fortune in Russia in the 1990s.
In other coverage of the Baltic summit, pro-Kremlin media outlets struck a familiar theme, arguing that the Baltic States are Russiaphobic, failing nations. Sputniknews.lt, mockingly reported that “the U.S. President praised his Baltic satellites for their military hysteria.” Rubaltic.ru stated that “the U.S.-Baltic summit showed that Trump does not need the service of the Baltic [States]. . . and that for the defense and ‘energy independence’ the Baltic States will pay a triple price to America.”
All these articles have features in common. First, they present opinion as facts and employ mockery and name-calling to undermine the importance of the summit. Second, as per the pro-Kremlin media’s playbook, they cast Russia as a victim of international aggression. Third, they ignored facts that contradicted their preferred narrative. None of the articles offered the reader a fact-based analysis of the U.S.-Baltic summit or mentioned the joint declaration that Trump and the Baltic presidents signed. The declaration is especially important given the NATO Summit in Brussels in July, which is expected to address existing deterrence and defense gaps in the alliance to ensure that NATO has the necessary means and capabilities to face challenges, including those facing the Baltic region.
Photo: Flickr/Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian