Briefs

Latvia: 16-23 January 2017

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Pro-Kremlin commentators in Latvia claim that Donald Trump’s inaugural address suggests his presidency will have a devastating effect on the ruling elites of the Baltic states.

Event: On 23 January, Latvia’s pro-Kremlin, Russian-language news portal Vesti.lv published a commentary on President Trump’s inaugural address. The same day, Latvian-language newspaper Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze Latvijai (NRA) published an opinion column that also assessed likely trends under the new president. 

The false fact or narrative: The Vesti.lv commentary, “The Baltics were given a ‘Black Spot,’”  was republished from Rubaltic.ru, a pro-Kremlin website. The Vesti.lv article—written by a different author (Anatoly Tarasov) than the writer of the original piece (Alexander Nosovich)—stressed the grave consequences of Trump’s presidency for the Baltics. It describes Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as the biggest losers of his election victory, claiming that even though the three countries have always supported “russophobic” U.S. policies, that era is now over and the Baltics have lost their most important ally. “For the Baltic states, President Trump and his supporters are an antipode … Trump threatens the whole strategy of Baltic Russophobes… All the Baltic elites can do now is pray … that Trump is not for long time.”

In his commentary Tarasov drew also parallels between the economic situation in the Baltics and Trump’s inaugural claim that there are “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” The Baltics, Vesti.lv argued, also are “strewn with the skeletons of industrial enterprises, the dinosaurs of the industrial [Soviet] era. It feels as if the U.S. president said that about Latvia.” It also claimed that in his inaugural address, Trump refused to continue providing financial and military support to NATO member states. The author of NRA’s column was Juris Paiders, a Latvian journalist who often supports Kremlin positions. Paiders argued that Trump’s inauguration means it is time “to refuse to follow U.S. policy. [From now on], let’s follow the example of Trump and bring forward our main slogan ‘Latvia first!’”
  
Reality on the ground: Trump’s inaugural speech did not criticize Western sanctions against Russia or NATO’s deployment of troops in the Baltics—steps the pro-Kremlin media, trying to downplay Moscow’s aggressive regional behavior, constantly blame on Baltic “russophobia.”  Moreover, by describing the Baltic states as antipodes to Trump, Vesti.lv ignores the fact that not all politicians representing Baltic elites are equally critical or anxious about Trump’s presidency.  

A. Tarasov has also over-interpreted Trump’s claim that for many decades American taxpayers “have subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.” Trump’s statement by no means suggests that he “refused to continue providing financial and military support to NATO member states.” It only repeats what Trump has previously stated—that NATO countries should increase their own defense spending. 

Tarasov’s attempts to draw parallels between ruined factories in the United States and Latvia overlooks differences in the economic transformation of both countries. While Trump criticizes the negative consequences of the free movement of capital that has allegedly devastated U.S. industry, Soviet factories in Latvia were often not economically justified, which is why they collapsed in the post-Soviet, free-market economy. Finally, the opinion expressed by Juris Paiders creates a false dilemma suggesting that supporting U.S. policy and developing Latvia are two incompatible political directions.  

Techniques: 
  • Exaggeration, 
  • over-generalization, 
  • false dilemma.

Audience:  Latvia’s Russian-speaking community as well as ethnic Latvians.

Analysis: This case shows how pro-Kremlin commentators tried to localize Trump’s inauguration address by highlighting its unpleasant prospects for the Baltics. This is consistent with a broader narrative that frequently appears in pro-Kremlin media—that the Baltics wrongly took pro-Western geopolitical decisions in the 1990s and as a consequence lost their sovereignty.