Briefs

Latvia: 18-24 July 2016

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The pro-Kremlin media uses the comments of NATO officials to undermine the alliance’s credibility and public support

Event: On 17 June, the pro-Kremlin Latvian Russian-language portal Mixnews.lv published an article which stated that “NATO is preparing for a war with Russia in the Baltics.”  The article   said the information came from an article in the US magazine, The Week, and was based on the US Senate testimony (7 June 2016) of Michael Carpenter, the US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia.  A week later, the pro-Kremlin Baltic Russian-language portal Rubaltic.ru published a separate story about the statements of Ben Hodges, the US Army Europe commander, which also claimed that “NATO will not be able to protect the Baltic States.” 

The false fact or narrative:  Mixnews.lv reported that Carpenter pointed to a potential war between the Baltic States and Russia and stated that “NATO will not protect Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from a lightning Russian military campaign.”   According to Mixnews.lv, in his hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) asked Carpenter if the RAND warning was still accurate that Russian troops could reach the capital cities of Estonia or Latvia in a maximum 60 hours and if NATO is prepared to deal with the threat from Russia.  

The statements by General Hodges were linked to an interview in the German newspaper Die Zeit where Hodges reflected on the shortcomings of the NATO defense capabilities identified during the multinational military exercise Anakonda that took place in Poland in June 2016. Hodges agreed with other military experts that “NATO [at the present moment] would not be able to protect the Baltic states against an attack by Russian forces.” Rubaltic.ru republished this news from the webpage of a Russian government daily newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta which, in its turn, took it from the Russian state-owned news agency TASS.    

Facts on the Ground:   In reality neither Carpenter in his testimony nor The Week publication argued that that the alliance would be unable to protect the Baltic States.  Carpenter emphasized that the alliance’s ability to protect the Baltics has improved.  Gen. Hodges did not say or imply that these deficiencies were so great as to prevent NATO from ever protecting the Baltic States, as the title of Rubaltic.ru news suggests.

After the Russian aggression toward Ukraine, NATO has sought to augment its defense capabilities in the region in response to an increased Russian threat.  At the same time, the alliance never has said that is unable or unwilling to protect the Baltics.  Instead, the critical reflections of NATO military officials suggest that the organization is determined to guarantee the security of its member states. The recent NATO decision to deploy four battalions in the Baltic States and Poland is a step toward improving the NATO defense capabilities. 

Technique
  • misquotation of public officials; 
  • provocative generalization of contextual statements.

Audience: Latvia’s Russian speakers; Russians inside the Russian Federation.

Analysis: The disinformation cases which are analyzed in this brief demonstrate a characteristic method of how pro-Kremlin media sought to shape the Baltic public opinion before the NATO summit in Warsaw (8–9 July).  Namely, they distorted the statements of US/NATO officials about alliance defense capabilities in order to weaken alliance unity and cast doubt on its ability to carry out its mission, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, by stirring up public opinion against the NATO presence in the Baltic by exaggerating its aggressive intentions.