A popular Russian saying—“If you cannot eat the whole thing, at least get a chew of it”—might best explain the intensified rhetoric by pro-Kremlin websites Rubaltic.ru, Regnum.ru, and sputniknews.lt about Lithuania’s energy policies and Russia’s interests in the European gas market.
On 9 October, Kaliningrad-based Rubaltic.ru
posted a Russian-language article mocking
Lithuania’s “struggle for energy independence from Russia.” It claimed that the floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, Independence, is plagued by scandal, “extremely economically unprofitable,” and “does not bring any benefit to Lithuania.” These statements have no factual basis. Rubaltic.ru further argues that “not a single Lithuanian specialist works on the LNG vessel,” only Latvians and Croats. A day later, the fringe website Laisvaslaikrastis.lt translated
the article into Lithuanian with the claim that “Lithuania continues its unsuccessful propaganda campaign of ‘energy independence’ at the expense of [Lithuanian] taxpayers.”
One reason pro-Kremlin media wrote about the Klaipėda LNG terminal, it seems, is that a second LNG ship arrived there 30 September from the United States, with gas purchased by a company in Latvia. Lithuanian mainstream media outlet lrt.lt
noted that “the U.S. is becoming a reliable LNG supplier for the entire Baltic region” and “contributes to Lithuanian and Baltic regional energy independence.”
However, a comprehensive view of Russian interests in the European gas market prompts a broader explanation of why the Kremlin is intensifying its hostile information campaign against Lithuanian’s diversification of gas and energy suppliers.
First, the free and transparent functioning of the Baltic energy industry hampers Russia’s goal of dominating the Baltic and European gas market. Therefore, it is in the Kremlin’s interest to divide and rule—to show, for example, the Klaipeda LNG terminal as a failure and discourage the other two Baltic states from pursuing a joint policy of energy independence.
Second, the European Commission will soon present the conclusions of its formal proceedings
against Gazprom for possible abuse of its dominant position in the Central and Eastern Europe from 2004 to 2012.
Third, U.S. LNG suppliers entering the European gas market are eager to boost U.S. gas
sales there, and Russia opposes any increase in competition.
Fourth, the Kremlin is pushing forward with construction of its Nord Stream 2
gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, which would give Russian gas suppliers a dominant role in Europe. The project has caused a major political, security, and energy debate in Europe.
Given all this, it’s no surprise that neither Rubaltic.ru nor fringe websites in Lithuania tell their readers that gas prices dropped only after Lithuania constructed its floating LNG terminal. Prior to 2015, Lithuania was entirely dependent on Russian sources of energy, and the price it was paying Gazprom was among the highest in the world. The new LNG terminal has undercut Russia’s gas monopoly in Lithuania. Now, Lithuania “sets the price limit” for gas and can choose among suppliers. Lithuanian experts also urge construction projects involving floating LNG terminals and other similar projects.
In this case the pro-Kremlin media behaves as it often does – it employs “divide and rule” manipulation techniques and tries to sow confusion and distrust among Lithuanian society while diminishing Lithuania’s reputation in Russia. What should the right response be to such manipulation? Media literacy—the ability to access, analyze, and evaluate information received by media—lets audiences distinguish disinformation and propaganda from journalism.