Briefs

Washington’s European Deterrence Initiative stirs Kremlin anxiety

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  • JAV Europos atgrasymo iniciatyva kelia nerymą Kremliuje  Šį straipsnį taip pat galite skaityti lietuvių kalba
Earlier this month, the pro-Kremlin media outlet Sputniknews.lt railed against the congressional approval of the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018. While it is common for pro-Moscow media outlets to criticize the Pentagon, what makes this unusual is how those outlets attacked its $4.6 billion allocation for the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI). The 2018 budget significantly expands the EDI—a measure aimed at countering Russian aggression in Europe through conventional and unconventional warfare methods. The draft budget for the EDI earmarks $100 million to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to collectively improve their resilience against and build their capacity to deter Russian aggression. The bill does not specify details of the program.

Sputniknews.lt reported the news to its Lithuanian- and Russian-speaking audiences in different ways.  In Lithuanian, the website used disinformation to sow doubt and anxiety about stability in Europe; in the Russian version it emphasized the theme of the United States as an enemy state. The Lithuanian version imitated the style of mainstream media, reporting on the U.S. defense budget without comment in order to create a bipartisan impression. Rather, it quoted a Russian official, who blamed the United States for current global tensions, and positioned Moscow as a casualty of rising Russophobia. On 9 November, Sputniknews.lt in Lithuanian wrote that Russia has become “a victim of American russophobes” and the U.S. defense lobby, and that the United States “will continue to exert pressure on Western European partners, including arms races, anti-Russian propaganda, cyber war, and NATO enlargement to the East.”  

On 12 November, the Russian version of Sputniknews.lt explained to its Lithuanian readers that the increased EDI budget speaks about U.S. “efforts to restore control over the Old World”—a reference to Europe—as it faces “the actual problem of Europe expanding its freedom of maneuver and intent to get rid of a secondary role in relation to the U.S.” The pro-Kremlin, Russian-language media also criticized the congressional allocation of $100 million for the Baltic states to deter Russian aggression, calling it a “symbolic ritual” in the context of the total EDI budget. Also on 13 November, another Kremlin outlet in Russian, Rubaltic.ru, argued that this money might be aimed at setting up a joint Baltic TV channel that would broadcast programs in Russian for the Russian-speaking population in the Baltics and in Russia itself—a kind of counter-response to Russia Today.”

Russia employs soft-power tools to win people’s minds and hearts in extensive, dynamic, and creative ways: information operations are only one way to wage war against the West. Yet Lithuania offers no alternative to the widely viewed Russian TV channels. Additionally, Lithuania’s two commercial TV networks allocate about 44 percent of their airtime to Russian-produced entertainment shows, which are much cheaper to license than their Western counterparts.

The Kremlin perceives any U.S. assistance to Baltic strategic communication activities as a challenge to its regional sphere of influence—and ultimately to Russia itself. That’s why the methods and narratives it uses to reach Russian speakers in Lithuania sometimes resemble those it employs for home audiences—even though the Russian speakers in this case are Lithuanian citizens, and their home country is a member of the European Union.