Briefs

Spreading Kremlin disinformation on Syria in Lithuania

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Pro-Kremlin media in Lithuania say U.S. military response to Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is proof of Washington’s international aggression

Coverage of the 4 April U.S. missile strike against a Syrian air base by Lithuania’s pro-Moscow media stressed several themes: first, that the Assad regime should not be held responsible for the recent chemical weapons attack that killed nearly 100 civilians; second, that Russia had nothing to do with it and third, that although the cause of the gas attack has not yet been identified, the Pentagon’s rashly launched missile strike violated international law. These narratives project the timeworn Kremlin narrative that the United States is an aggressor.

Pro-Kremlin media outlets spread these themes across Lithuania and the Baltics, aiming to sow doubts and confusion about the facts behind the chemical attack. On 11 April, the Kaliningrad-based, pro-Kremlin website Rubaltic.ru published an article, “The Baltic states wholeheartedly supported Washington in Syria,” noting that “foreign ministers almost simultaneously tweeted” their support.” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite stood out by linking both Assad and Russia to the “tragedy in Khan Sheikhum,” it said, quoting Grybauskaite as declaring that “both Assad and Russia should know the red lines, what can and cannot be done.” The article argued that “at the moment of the U.S. missile attack, the cause of the gas attack had not been established,” and that the missile strike was a reminder of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq under the pretense that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

On 12 April, the pro-Kremlin, Russian-language website Regnum.ru quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as offering two additional reasons for the gas attack against Syrian civilians: first, that “the Syrian Air Forces hit an underground warehouse for chemical weapons production,” and second, that the attack was simply a “staged provocation in order to mount pressure on the legal Government of Syria.” On 13 April, rubaltic.ru repeated Putin’s statements about the causes of the gas attack. Pro-Kremlin media also linked Lithuania to the U.S. attack. Sputniknews.lt in Lithuanian published an article, “Lithuania’s position on Syria is beyond common sense,” in which it criticized Lithuania’s “unconditional support of the U.S.” The article also reminds readers that Lithuania unquestioningly supported the United States in its attack against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Besides using military means, Russia employs propaganda activities to advance Kremlin objectives. Its Foreign Policy Doctrine states that “soft power” has become integral to Russian foreign policy.  It is therefore no surprise that the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign concerning Syria intensified on the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s 12 April visit to Moscow and the United Nations Security Council vote to condemn the gas attack in Syria. 

The Kremlin wants Lithuanian public opinion to assimilate its message that Washington exercises its foreign policy aggressively and in violation of international law, and that Lithuania is subordinated to the United States and does not act as an independent state.