Sergey Ivanov Claims Latvia’s Economic and Demographic Problems, Not Security Concerns, Are the Reason for its Commitment to NATO
Event: On 18 June, Sergey Ivanov, chief of Vladimir Putin’s presidential administration, gave an interview to News of the Week, a news program broadcast by the state-owned Russian TV channel Rossiy. In the interview Ivanov said that the Baltic states use anti-Russian propaganda in order to distract attention from their economic problems. Ivanov claimed these three countries suffer from a severe depopulation. He said that in Latvia, for example, example the population has declined by 50 percent since 1990, in significant part due to outmigration. Therefore, he said, “the Baltic states cry about an approaching attack from a cunning Russia.” Ivanov said that the deployment of NATO battalions in the Baltics means that hundreds of new jobs will be created and provide additional income and economic benefits to the population. Two birds thus are killed with one stone. The situation creates a “political justification of the extension of anti-Russian sanctions, but, most importantly, gives reason to create the image” of Russian as an enemy. The pro-Kremlin Latvian Russian-language portal Vesti.lv published news about Ivanov’s statements.
The false fact or narrative: Ivanov’s claim that the number of Latvians has decreased by half is not correct. According to official statistics suggest, the number of Latvia’s inhabitants has decreased by 25 percent, not 50 percent, since 1990. The drop has been due to the natural decline of the country’s population. Nevertheless, in recent years the birth rate has increased in Latvia. Moreover, Latvia’s recent growth in GDP indicates that, contrary to Ivanov’s claims, that the economies of the Baltic states have been among the most dynamic EU economies since the global economic crisis (2008–2011). By providing incorrect information about Latvia’s demographic and economic situation, Ivanov seeks to minimize Russia’s role in the escalation of tensions and reduce the motives for Latvian opposition to Moscow to economic self-interest.
Reality on the ground: The support of the Baltic states and Poland for a stronger NATO military presence in the region is a direct response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its invasion of eastern Ukraine, and provocative military activity in the Nordic-Baltic region. This aggression has increased regional concern about security in the regions and uncertainty about Russian intentions. Russian aggression has also tested the commitment of the alliance to collective defense of the Baltic countries under the 5th article of NATO’s Founding Treaty, which states that an attack against one member of the alliance is to be considered as an attack against all alliance members.
The sanctions against Russia also have caused considerable financial losses to sectors of the Baltic economies that are traditionally dependent on trade with the Russian Federation. This situation contradicts Ivanov’s argument that by supporting sanctions against Russia the Baltic states seek to gain economic benefits.
Technique: reducing the tenets of collective defence to mercantile interests; using conspiracy theories.
Audience: Inhabitants of Russia and Russian speakers of the Baltic states.
Analysis: The demographic situation in the Baltics has provoked popular criticism of the social and economic policies of national elites and the European Union. This provides fertile ground for Kremlin propaganda. Kremlin media and many Russian officials theme is picked up not only by pro-Kremlin media but many Russian officials, who seek to frame the Baltic countries as failed states. For example, in an interview to the TV channel Россия in April, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the population decrease in the Baltics and juxtaposed it to recent population growth in Russia. Putin based his claim on incorrect statistics of the Baltic states which exaggerated population losses. Thus Putin implicitly suggested that, unlike Russia, the Baltic states – the most progressive and Western-oriented post-Soviet countries – have chosen incorrect social policies.
Ivanov, in turn, uses Latvia’s demographic problems to undermine NATO plans to deploy troops in the Baltics. Pro-Kremlin media frequently argue that economic self-interest, rather than security concerns, motivates the behaviour of NATO member states. In doing so the Kremlin hopes to weaken the West’s idea of collective defence.