Briefs

Latvia: 28 November – 4 December

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A Latvian pro-Kremlin news website distorts the statements of Finland’ trade minister to portray Finland as the first Western country to officially lift sanctions against Russia.

Event: On 2 December, Latvia’s pro-Kremlin Russian-language website Vesti.lv published a news article which claimed that Finland is lifting sanctions against Russia.  

The false fact or narrative: Vesti.lv picked up the article from TOPnews, a Russian website. The original source of this story was an article in the Financial Times (FT). 

Vesti.lv claimed that “Finland is the first country that has de facto lifted Western sanctions on Russia and has officially announced it.” The author, Timur Pushkarev, reported that FT released a statement by Finnish Trade Minister Kai Mykkänen saying that his government supports a concerted Western policy against Russia’s breaches of international law. However, Vesti.lv reported, Mykkänen also said that such an approach does not stop Finland from “re-establishing decent trade and economic relations with its neighbor.” Hence, Vesti.lv concluded, “the Finnish government makes clear that a political statement that ‘Russia has breached the international order’ is one thing, but the economy is another. That is to say, politics should not restrict pragmatic economic relations.” Vesti.lv suggested that Finland “admits that no sanctions will be able to change Russia’s position and that it is not going to continue losing trade opportunities with Russia.” According to Mykkänen, the Finnish-Russian trade commission will resume, with the two countries’ trade ministers due to meet in a week to discuss how to restore a full-fledged partnership. The article also said that lifting sanctions will boost Finnish exports to Russia.

Reality on the ground: The FT article cited by Vesti.lv focuses on the dynamics of relations among Norway, Finland and Russia. It did not publish a separate statement by Finnish Trade Minister Kai Mykkänen, as the Vesti.lv article claims. Nor does the article suggest that Finland has lifted sanctions against Russia, nor does quote Mykkänen as saying that Western sanctions against Russia do not prevent Finland from “re-establishing decent trade and economic relations with its neighbor.” Instead, in the FT article Mykkänen insists that it is “important to support the work of Finnish companies in Russia. But […] Russia’s bombardment of Aleppo in Syria had made both the EU and Finland ‘more negative’ towards Moscow.” Mykkänen does not prioritize economic goals over political issues in relations with Russia, as the Vesti.lv article claims, nor does he question the efficacy of sanctions. Mykkänen also warns against over-interpreting the prospects for a revived Finnish-Russian trade commission. Finally, the FT article does not report that the focus of Mykkänen’s meeting with his Russian counterpart will be the restoration of a full-fledged partnership between two countries. The original Russian-language article that Vesti.lv allegedly republished from TOPNews is no longer available on the TOPNews website.    

Techniques: 
  • Misleading title, 
  • card stacking,
  • misquoting. 

Audience:  Russian speakers in Latvia.

Analysis: This disinformation case shows how pro-Kremlin media use every opportunity to cast doubts on the effectiveness of Western sanctions. By misquoting and reinterpreting the statement of Finland’s trade minister, such media exaggerate the economic aspect of building bilateral relations with Helsinki while downplaying Finland’s opposition to Russian aggression towards Ukraine. Pro-Kremlin media often use the same narrative pattern towards the Baltic countries as they did with Finland in this example—overstating their economic problems due to Russian countersanctions. Since the Baltics often view Finland as the ideal welfare state, misstating its approach to Russian, pro-Kremlin media also seeks to undermine Baltic opposition to Moscow.