Briefs

Latvia - 29 August - 4 September 2016

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Latvia’s pro-Kremlin media misquotes NATO’s former secretary-general in order to intimidate its audience by exaggerating the risk of an invasion by Russian “little green men.” 

Event: On 4 September, Latvia’s pro-Kremlin, Russian-language news portal Vesti.lv carried an interview which former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave to Apostrophe, a Ukrainian news portal. Vesti.lv focused on Rasmussen’s comments about the likelihood of hybrid warfare in the Baltic states.

The false fact or narrative: The title of the Vesti.lv story suggested that Rasmussen believed “little green men” might appear in Latvia—a euphemism for the Kremlin-supported fighters without insignia who became prominent during Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. Vesti.lv quoted Rasmussen as saying that Latvia and Estonia “are seriously concerned with this issue, as they have large Russian-speaking minorities.” Vesti.lv said that in Rasmussen’s opinion, “open aggression toward these countries is highly unlikely since they are members of the North Atlantic Alliance. But one cannot be sure that there will not be hybrid warfare, thus intending to destabilize the situation in these countries.”   

Reality on the ground: In his interview with Apostrophe, Rasmussen indeed speculated that the Baltics are vulnerable to Russian hybrid warfare. However, he did not claim that “little green men” will soon turn up in Latvia. Nor does he explicitly say they would come from Russia—only that Latvia and Estonia are worried about this threat. Vesti.lv also omitted Rasmussen’s comments that the two nations are concerned with “Putin’s doctrine which envisages that Russia can intrude on the domestic affairs of other countries in order to protect Russian-speaking minorities.” Thus Vesti.lv creates the impression that the Baltics mainly fear their own Russian-speaking minorities rather than the Kremlin’s use of these minorities to expand its influence.   The story has also left out Rasmussen’s statement that currently “the Baltic states are well protected, since they are members of the North-Atlantic Alliance.”  

Techniques: 
  • Card-stacking, 
  • exaggeration  
  • over-generalization.

Audience: Latvia’s Russian-speaking community and Latvians in general. 

Analysis: This case demonstrates a frequent technique of pro-Kremlin media: selectively quoting Western experts and politicians to advance Russian interests. Vesti.lv used Rasmussen’s comments to exaggerate the role of the “little green men” as a decisive threat to NATO. Unlike the original Ukrainian source, the website also tries to strengthen the image of Russian military might. The discussion of “little green men” also serves as a reminder to ethnic Russians in Latvia and elsewhere that the Kremlin may be willing to protect them against discrimination.  Vesti.lv omits Rasmussen’s expression “Putin’s doctrine”—thereby distancing the Russian president from any context in which he could be framed as an aggressor.