Briefs

Two tales on NATO in the Baltics

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  • Du pasakojimai apie NATO Baltijos šalyse   Šį straipsnį taip pat galite skaityti lietuvių kalba
Pro-Kremlin media outlets have continued their longstanding narrative that NATO is an aggressor and that Russia poses no threat to its neighbors, but a more recent, contradictory theme minimizes NATO’s role in the Baltic region. It claims that the alliance recently enhanced its presence in Eastern Europe primarily for propaganda purposes which far exceeds its military capability.
 
On 6 July, the pro-Kremlin, Lithuanian-language website Sputniknews.lt warned that “ungrounded statements about Moscow’s threats are a pretext for NATO to increase its military forces on the border with Russia.” It referred to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement that “NATO was well aware that Russia has no plans to attack anyone. However, [NATO] uses [that claim] as a pretext for deploying … military equipment on the Russian border.” The Sputniknews.lt article appeared to be a response to President Trump’s 6 July meeting with Central and Eastern European leaders in Warsaw.

Sputniknews.lt also reported that Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite “told Trump what threatens Lithuania.” She underscored “substantially increased Russian military capacities in the Kaliningrad region;” “preparations underway for the aggressive Zapad-2017 military exercise;” “continuous cyber attacks” and “the unsafe Russian-Belarus Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant.”

On 12 July, the pro-Kremlin website Rubaltic.ru wrote that “since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis experts, journalists and policy analysts insist that the Baltic region will be a future theater of military operations.” During his June visit to Kaliningrad, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that NATO’s latest military exercises, Baltops-2017 and Saber Strike-2017, “are forcing Russia to take action,” and that by year’s end, “20 new [military] units and formations will be placed in the Western Military District” of Russia.

At the same time, pro-Kremlin media outlets have tried to play down NATO military capabilities in the Baltics. Rubaltic.ru quoted Vladimir Egorov, former commander of the Baltic Fleet and former governor of the Kaliningrad region, as saying that NATO’s deployment of international battalions in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland “does not mean anything to Russia. He said “it‘s like a pinprick, a purely propagandistic action of NATO” needed “to justify the entry of the Baltic states into NATO.”

On 12 July, the Russian-language, pro-Kremlin website Regnum.ru also stated that NATO rhetoric about Russian aggression against the Baltic region far exceeds NATO’s real presence in the region. “The real scale of NATO retaliatory actions in the northeastern direction remains rather modest.” it said, offering as evidence the fact that “five NATO countries [Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Great Britain and the United States] participated in the exercises of the Tobruq Legacy 2017 air defense units that began in Lithuania on 11 July, sending a total of [only] 500 troops to these maneuvers.”

The reason for such dual messages is two-fold: to downplay the importance of the Zapad-2017 military exercise in September, and to boost Russia’s regional prestige—especially among Russian-speaking citizens—by diminishing NATO. It does so through the use of card-stacking and denying facts. The Kremlin narrative even avoids mentioning the causes of tension in the Baltic region and Central and Eastern Europe. Instead, it creates context by misinterpreting the statements of NATO officials.