Briefs

Moscow targets Lithuanian border fence

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  • Maskva nusitaikė į Lietuvos pasienio apsauginę tvorą  Šį straipsnį taip pat galite skaityti lietuvių kalba
Kremlin criticizes Lithuania’s new fence along its border with Kaliningrad, even though Russia has built a fence of its own.

On 6 June, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Lithuania of “Russophobia” for having begun work the previous day on a two-meter-high security fence along its 250-km border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. This year Lithuania plans to finish 45 kms of that fence—along the same border where Russia has already constructed a 100-km barbed wire fence of its own. 

Lithuanian authorities categorically denied the accusation, noting that their country is critical of the Kremlin but not of Russia or the Russian people. The fence is aimed at preventing smuggling, illegal migration, terrorism and provocations from the Russian side, says Lithuania’s Interior Ministry. The fence also helps protect the external borders of both the EU and NATO. Lithuanian officials point out that this fence will not protect Lithuania from the security threat posed by Kaliningrad—Europe’s most militarized area—but will decrease the chances of staged or involuntary intrusions into NATO territory, especially with Russia’s upcoming Zapad-2017 military exercises in Belarus.

Lithuania’s plan to construct a security fence has long been public. Kremlin media outlets rubaltic.ru, sputniknews.lt and eskpertai.eu have been ironically commenting on those plans for almost a year. Nevertheless, in criticizing the project now, the Kremlin adheres to one of its established information strategies: the best defense is a good offense. It accuses Lithuania of something Russia does itself, otherwise known as the “wolf cries wolf” propaganda technique.

In covering this story, the pro-Kremlin media employs irony and sarcasm to diminish Lithuania—a technique it uses when it is short of arguments based on fact. For example, Kremlin-controlled media filmed the construction of steel fence structures, but reported that Lithuania is “wasting millions of euros” by constructing “a two-meter-high brick wall.” On 16 January, Rossia TV reported on the “great Lithuanian wall.” On 6 June, vesti-kaliningrad.ru again spoke about Lithuania building a wall. On 23 January, Alexander Udaltsov, Russia’s ambassador in Vilnius, in an interview with rubaltic.ru compared the fence to children playing in a sandbox, where every kid “guards” his own territory. 

Pro-Russian media also mocked the idea that a fence on Lithuania’s border with Kaliningrad would protect it from an “aggressive eastern neighbor.” It sarcastically supposed that the fence would guard Kaliningrad from refugees whom the EU “imposed” on Vilnius and who would flee Lithuania. In doing so, the Kremlin media aim to diminish Lithuania and suggest that refugees who come to Lithuania in accordance with the EU’s refugee quota policy may want to leave Lithuania and run to Kaliningrad. The website also asked why Lithuania—by reputation the most anti-Russian state in the region—is the last among three Baltic states to build a fence. Sputniknews.lt concluded that construction of the fence “ideally mirrors current Lithuanian-Russian relations that are unlikely to improve in the near future.” 

Lithuanian media pointed out an incident three years ago on the unmarked Estonia-Russia border when intruders from the Russian side used a smoke grenade, disrupted radio communications and kidnapped an Estonian counterintelligence officer. Kremlin propaganda did not invent a new story to meet its goal of diminishing Lithuania among Russian speakers. Instead it manipulated the fence construction by exploiting both propaganda techniques and literary devices such as allusion, humor, irony and sarcasm.

Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins