Latvia: 2-9 January 2017

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Latvia’s media republishes news stories that exaggerate the impact of Russian countersanctions on EU member countries.

Event: On 6 January, Russian-language news portals Mixnews and Rus Delfi reposted stories from Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti about how badly Russian countersanctions have hurt the economy of the European Union (EU). Pro-Kremlin websites Sputnik and also republished those same stories in the Latvian language. 

The false fact or narrative: The stories claim that Russia’s countersanctions have cost Europe  400,000 jobs. The main source for these articles was a report in the Vienna newspaper Der Standart that cited a study conducted by the Austrian Economic Research Institute (WIFO). 

Reality on the ground: WIFO’s econometric study, according to Der Standart,  found that EU economic output fell by €17.6 billion in 2015, leading to the loss of nearly 400,000 jobs. Yet the article also reported that, according to WIFO, EU-Russia trade would have suffered massively from Russia’s weakening economy even if the Kremlin had not slapped countersanctions on the EU.  This, said WIFO, is due to “the fact that the Russian economy began to weaken strongly as a result of the oil price decline, and that the Ruble experienced an enormous devaluation.” WIFO said EU countries would have seen exports fall by €22 billion even if Russia had not imposed countersanctions—meaning the EU’s losses cannot be indiscriminately blamed on the impact of Russian countersanctions, as the news article appearing in Mixnews and Rus Delfi insisted.

  • Card stacking.

Audience:  Russian speakers in Latvia; ethnic Latvians.

Analysis: This disinformation case is based on a selective reading of the WIFO study. The article highlighted and generalized only one of the many explanations for a shrinking EU economy, while intentionally overlooking WIFO’s main conclusion, which emphasized the significant damage Russia’s deteriorating economy is causing to EU exports. This selective approach goes in line with the continuing attempts of pro-Kremlin media to show that Western sanctions against Russia do not work, and that they are only hurting the economies of countries that support them.  Notably, this disinformation is linked to the media in Austria—one of the few EU countries that advocates lifting the sanctions, which were imposed after Russia annexed Crimea. Arguably, Austrian media outlets are more likely to produce content that can be a useful Western source for pro-Kremlin media that oppose  Western sanctions against Russia.