Briefs

Latvia - 4-10 July 2016

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Russian-language media links the US deployment of B-52 aircraft to nuclear threats in the Baltics

Event: On 2 June, the Russian version of Latvian Internet portal TvNet.lv published an article,  “US moves nuclear bombs to Baltics,” which reported the deployment of three US B-52 fighter jets to the region for joint NATO military drills. It was reprinted from another article that appeared in Russian state-owned news agency TASS

The false fact or narrative: The TASS article cited information provided by the US Strategic Command that three B-52 aircraft would participate in the BALTOPS, Saber Strike and Just Hammer military exercises. The TASS report was relatively balanced; other pro-Kremlin media published similar information. Yet TvNet.lv changed the neutral tone of the TASS title—“US moves three B-52 bombers to training in the Baltics”—to a more alarming one, creating the impression that relocated US bombers would carry nuclear weapons. Neither RT in English nor Sputnik in Latvian links the deployment of B-52s with nuclear weapons. 

Unlike the TASS title, the TvNet.lv title does not reveal how many B-52s were deployed, thereby allowing the reader to assume that the real number was actually higher. Nor does the headline mention that the B-52s were deployed—only temporarily—for training purposes. 
  
Yet these news sources provide a broader context that emphasizes that the US intends to provoke a conflict in the Baltics while conveying Russia’s disappointment with NATO actions which increase regional insecurity. Remarkably, the Sputnik article contains a link to US Strategic Command, yet that link brings readers to NATO Stratcom—the alliance’s Riga-based Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence —which pro-Kremlin media usually portray negatively.    

Reality on the ground: On 2 June, three B-52 were deployed from North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base to Britain’s RAF Fairford, as part of the US European Command’s BALTOPS and Saber Strike exercises, and the US Africa Command’s Just Hammer. This marked the third year in a row that strategic bombers had deployed to RAF Fairford and trained with US and allied military forces.

Technique: 
  • Sensationalizing the headline by using alarming words; 
  • manipulating the topic of nuclear threats. 

Audience: Latvia’s Russian-speaking community.

Analysis: Mainstream Russian media and pro-Kremlin media outside Russia continually demonize NATO. However, this strategy is often carried out indirectly by focusing on aggressive US, rather than NATO, intentions. This suggests the Kremlin hopes to divide NATO by wooing states that may be sympathetic toward Russia. Thus, some alliance members that are potentially more sympathetic to Russia—like Hungary or Italy—are rarely mentioned in this discourse, while the Kremlin is more critical of staunch US supporters such as the UK. By framing the United States as an aggressor, the authors intend to evoke anxiety among certain segments of Latvian society that have inherited the fear of nuclear war from the Cold War period.