Object of manipulation: Vesti.lv
Date: 8 May 2016
The false fact or narrative: On 8 May, Latvia’s Russian-language portal Vesti.lv and other popular local Internet sites published a news story about the program “Звонок” which had aired on NTV, one of Russia’s largest TV channels. The main topic of this program was the hostile attitude of the Baltic states toward Russia. Its producers used fake characters who called Baltic politicians and other public officials and asked them questions which allegedly revealed their radical ideologies. One politician reached by the program was Jānis Dombrava, a Latvian parliamentarian who represents National Alliance. The caller pretended to be Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, a radical Ukrainian party. The fake Yarosh suggested that Dombrava organize a joint march of former members of the SS divisions in Riga. Dombrava showed interest in such a proposal, remarking that “our guys” had also joined pro-Ukrainian military formations against Kremlin-supported rebels in eastern Ukraine. Program participants discussed Dombrava’s comments, especially his willingness to collaborate with “a terrorist organization” and the duty of Latvia’s law enforcement agencies to investigate citizens who have fought with the military forces of another country. The same program also targeted Lithuanian politicians.
By employing provocation and mockery, those behind the NTV
program “Звонок” sought to show the eagerness of Latvia’s political elite in genera—and Dombrava in particular—to collaborate with right-wing Ukrainian radicals who are indiscriminately framed as fascists by Russian media. The program created the impression of on-the-air phone calls; however, these calls were pre-recorded and most likely pre-edited. Thus the outcome is obviously manipulated. Dombrava later complained that NTV had edited his opinions, and that during the original conversation—which was much longer—more than once he asked for more detailed information on the proposed march in Riga. In addition, Dobrava does not consider the participation of Latvian citizens in Ukraine’s war against the Kremlin-supported rebels very shocking, since Latvian media have already reported on that topic many times. He also believes that Latvia’s security services are aware of this fact
. Notably, the TV program did not mention that several Latvian citizens have also joined pro-Kremlin rebels in Ukraine’s Donbass region.
Technique: Using fake characters to obtain information from public officials; manipulation of politicians’ opinions, and generalization of information obtained through provocative methods.
Audience: Targets of this disinformation are the inhabitants of Russia as well as Russian-speaking Latvians.
Analysis: This disinformation case is particularly salient in terms of the 9 May (Victory Day) anniversary. This important date is observed by millions in Russia and elsewhere. In light of these celebrations, the Kremlin lately has been portraying the Baltic states as well as Ukraine as countries where fascism is enjoying a renaissance. The goal of NTV’s highly provocative program is not only to push a certain historical narrative, but also to taint the current political elite in the Baltic states as ultranationalists. Furthermore, as the participants of the “Звонок” discussion as well as the program’s general mood suggest, these elites are primarily nationalistic not because they oppose Russia’s historical narrative, but because they disagree with Russia’s Ukraine policy and strongly support the current Ukrainian political order.