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Latvia: 9-15 January 2017

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A Russian-language, pro-Kremlin TV channel portrays the deployment of NATO forces in Latvia as costly and meaningless.  

Event: On 9 January, the Russian state-owned TV channel Rossija 24, popular among Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority, broadcast a news story about the deployment of NATO forces in the Baltic states. 

The false fact or narrative: The Rossija 24 journalist juxtaposed the deployment of NATO forces with recent scandals involving NATO soldiers in the Baltic states and Poland. She argued that incidents of bad behavior among foreign troops “have become a norm” in Latvia. She also claimed that after one such incident, Aivars Lembergs—mayor of the port city of Ventspils—called American soldiers “the occupant pigs.” The story also quoted Latvian pro-Kremlin activist Einars Graudins, presenting him as a political scientist (see starting from 1:39). Graudins claimed that NATO’s deployment of forces near the Russian border is propaganda aimed not at the Baltic states or Poland, but at “the next landlord of the White House.” Rossija 24 complained also about the high cost of hosting NATO soldiers in Latvia, arguing that the only profit Latvia receives from being in NATO is a special supermarket for NATO troops (see starting from 2:24).

Reality on the ground: The Rossija 24 journalist generalized and exaggerated from the few incidents of misbehavior involving NATO troops that have occurred in Latvia in recent years. No reliable source has corroborated the allegation that the mayor of Ventpils—who has indeed criticized NATO in the past—called U.S. soldiers “occupant pigs.” Her claim that Latvia’s only benefit from NATO membership is a special supermarket for NATO soldiers is also untrue. The supermarket shown in the news story, located in Adazi, is near one of the military bases where NATO soldiers will be deployed. Yet the store was already open in 2009—before any decisions to deploy NATO forces to Latvia were taken. Its construction thus had nothing to do with the deployment of NATO soldiers. Graudins’ opinion apparently is based on a conspiracy theory which suggests that such deployment is a game played between former President Barack Obama and his successor, Donald Trump. This claim ignores the fact that the deployment of NATO forces in the Baltics came up during the NATO Wales summit in 2014 as a response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and was acted upon at the 2016 Warsaw summit.

  • No proof, 
  • false facts, 
  • false visuals, 
  • exaggeration
  • over-generalization.

Audience:  Latvia’s Russian-speaking community.

Analysis: The Rossija 24 story aims to undermine the 2016 deployment of NATO forces in the Baltics and Poland, justifying it with the unsubstantiated claim that misbehavior of NATO soldiers has become a norm in Latvia. This disinformation case is consistent with Moscow’s general line opposing the deployment. This was evident in the stream of fake news produced a few weeks ago by pro-Kremlin websites, claiming that the United States was sending 3,600 tanks to Europe as part of “the NATO war preparation against Russia.” The Rossija 24 story analyzed in this brief did not reproduce fake news, but instead framed the deployment as a costly and meaningless initiative opposed by local residents. Furthermore, it reduced the deployment’s benefits to merely economic gain, thus downplaying Latvia’s profound security concerns.