Latvia: 5-11 December 2016

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A pro-Kremlin website tries to undermine the authority of Latvia’s military by publishing a false story about the commander of the Latvian National Armed Forces.

Event: On 7 December, Latvia’s pro-Kremlin website published an article that allegedly revealed hitherto unknown facts of how OMON—the Soviet special police force—along with other unidentified combat groups attacked the Latvian Interior Ministry on 20 January 1991 in Riga, killing five people. The story focused on the commander of Latvia’s National Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, who was reportedly involved in the provocation.

The false fact or narrative: The article was based on an interview that appeared in the website of state-owned Russian daily Rossiskie Vesti. The interview’s subject was an anonymous man who was close to the events of 20 January 1991. On that date, OMON attacked Latvia’s Interior Ministry, marking the bloodiest episode in the fight for Latvia’s independence. The interviewee claimed, without proof, that Raimonds Graube—current commander of Latvia’s National Armed Forces—took part in the attack. He also alluded to Graube’s possible involvement in the killing of cameramen Andris Slapins and Gvido Zvaigzne, who died in the attack and who immediately became the symbols of Latvia’s independence movement.

Reality on the ground: The interviewee cited Didzis Meijers as his main source, claiming that Meijers is a former colleague of Graube who allegedly took part in the attack. Meijers, however, has committed suicide, and no other reliable sources can corroborate these claims against Graube. Thus, it appears to be an invented story. Graube himself called the interview absurd. He told Latvian media that he was in another part of Riga, organizing the protection of Latvian TV, when the Interior Ministry attack occurred. Graube, a respected Latvian military official, has even suggested that perhaps he is not the ultimate target of such disinformation. He served as commander of the Latvian Army from 1999 to 2003 and from 2010 until 2016, when he resigned to “give the military pyramid a chance to develop.”

Technique: Fake story.

Audience: Russian-speaking Latvians.

Analysis: This disinformation probably targeted Graube, who as commander of the Latvian Army has consistently and strongly supported the idea of strengthening NATO’s defense capability. Raising the issue of the 1991 Interior Ministry attack taps into a deep emotional chord in Latvian society, its resistance to Soviet occupation and its non-violent fight for Latvia’s freedom. By using this iconic example, the pro-Kremlin website also seeks to weaken the idea that resistance to the USSR was justified. This is part of a broader set of Kremlin narratives that tries to weaken the trust of Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians in their national armed forces.