Briefs

Latvia: 26 September – 2 October

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Pro-Kremlin Latvian media manipulates survey findings in order to challenge the legitimacy of NATO in Europe. 

Event: On 27 September Latvia’s pro-Kremlin Russian-language website Vesti.lv published a news article about Sputnik Polls survey results that demonstrated Italians’ and Germans’ distrust of foreign military bases in their countries.
 
The false fact or narrative: The Vesti.lv news article, entitled, “Survey: In Europe people do not believe in NATO,” stated that according the poll Europeans would distrust foreign military bases located in their countries even if placed there for reasons of their national security. Only four percent of Germans and five percent of Italians believe that foreign military bases would defend their countries better than their own armed forces. The data were collected following an Ifop public opinion poll commissioned by a pro-Kremlin news and radio broadcasting service Sputnik.   The article noted that in 2015 the US had 587 military sites overseas, with most European sites located in Germany and Italy.
 
Reality on the ground: The Vesti.lv news article was republished from the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti. The findings based on this opinion poll also were published on Sputnik’s English website.  However, the Vesti.lv article contained the most misleading title, suggesting that Europeans in general do not believe in NATO. In fact, the Ifop survey was conducted only in two European countries – Germany and Italy – and the survey question focused on how people in respective countries estimate the defense capability of foreign military bases. Namely, German and Italian respondents answered the following question: “Foreign military bases are located in your country. In your opinion, what armed forces can protect you better?” Thus, the survey did not measure the respondents’ belief or trust in NATO or the US military bases, as the Vesti.lv and other articles suggest.  Moreover, the survey data represents the public opinion of two European countries only.  They therefore in no way can be generalized regarding poplar views in all of Europe.
 
The Sputnik Polls survey also presents its data in a misleading way.  In fact, the survey findings show that there is no dominant popular opinion on foreign bases. When asked who would more effectively defend their countries, 38 percent of Germans and 34 percent of Italians said that their respective national armed forces could do the job without these bases. At the same time, 37 percent of Germans and 34 percent of Italians also said that their respective countries should be defended by both national armies and foreign bases. A large proportion of those asked -- 21 percent of Germans and 27 percent of Italians said they “Don't know.”
 
The title of Vesti.lv article also is misleading regarding the actual popular mood in Europe.  Although results differ by country, a spring 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that NATO receives mostly positive reviews from European member nations.
 
Technique: 
  • misleading title, 
  • over-generalization, 
  • join the bandwagon.
 
Audience: Europeans, Latvians, Russophone communities
 
Analysis: This disinformation case illustrates how pro-Kremlin media manipulates survey data, in order to strengthen their strategic narratives. Since 2015, Sputnik has commissioned many surveys from European research companies (e.g. Populus, IFOP, forsa) on topics which can publicly provide a legitimate and seemingly impartial sociological support to Kremlin policies or disseminate the view that the Western world, especially the Europe community is fracturing.  For example, in 2016, Sputnik polls emphasized that Europeans think that US actions after 9/11 have not made the world a safer place and that Europeans fear job competition from migrants.