A curious fake: Lithuania encounters an echo from the “Lisa case”

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Lithuania: 20 February 2017

Lithuania became the target of an information and cyber attack from an unknown source—the same day its parliament, the Seimas, ratified the Defense Cooperation Agreement between Lithuania and the United States. The agreement, signed on 14 January, details the status of U.S. troops, their dependents and contractors in Lithuania. Following ratification, the Speaker of the Seimas received an email stating that a girl from an orphanage “was surrounded and raped by a crowd of drunken German-speaking uniformed German soldiers” on her way home from school. The letter claimed the alleged incident occurred in the region where NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence battalion, led by Germany, has been deployed.

The prosecutor’s office has already established that the story is fake, that the letter was signed under a false name, and that it was sent from an undisclosed server located in a non-EU member state. 

However, the timing of the letter and its content suggests it was released by Russia, with the aim of discrediting Lithuania and its NATO allies, encouraging public disapproval of government decisions and sowing distrust among Lithuanians about the deployment of NATO soldiers to Lithuania. 

This story resembles the infamous “Lisa case” of January 2016, in which Muslim immigrants in Germany were falsely reported to have sexually assaulted a Russian girl. That story first appeared on an obscure German website but was immediately spun by Russian media outlets like Perviy Kanal, a state-run TV channel. By spreading that fake story, the Kremlin likely sought to inflame German public opinion about the threats posed by immigrants and create a backlash to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s permissive immigration policies. 

Notably, right before debating the above-mentioned Defense Cooperation Agreement, Lithuanian lawmakers received emails from an identified server urging not to ratify the accord because they would allegedly lose their status as parliamentarians. This is an old Kremlin narrative; it paints the United States as an aggressive nation that flouts international law and seeks dominance. Undermining confidence in U.S. security guarantees is a common recent theme of  Russian information war policy.

According to some Lithuanian experts, the increased frequency of disinformation and cyber attacks in Lithuania may also be related to the upcoming Russian military offensive exercise known as “Zapad,” set to take place in September in Russia's Western Military District bordering Belarus and Lithuania. Under Zapad, Russian military forces will simulate a Baltic invasion. According to Russian military doctrine, information confrontation is an essential aspect of military operations.

Photo: Reuters/Ints Kalnins