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Latvia: 30 October – 6 November 2016

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A pro-Kremlin news portal tries to undermine confidence in NATO’s capability to defend the Baltic states by misrepresenting the findings of a Rand report.

Event: On 30 October, Latvia’s pro-Kremlin, Russian-language website posted an article—based on a January 2016 Rand study—about NATO’s military capability to protect the Baltic states.

The false fact or narrative: The article, titled “U.S. can hand over Riga in 36 hours,” reported that the Rand Corp., a prominent U.S. think tank, has “clarified its predictions in relation to the time that will be necessary for Russian military forces to seize the Baltic states.” It continues: “If earlier, according to analysts’ estimations, the Russian Federation could take Riga in 60 hours, then the new findings suggest that Russian soldiers can enter the capital of Latvia in 36 hours.” NATO officials and Baltic politicians have “constantly mentioned the aggression that allegedly emanates from Russian foreign policy,” said, adding that Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “has frequently pointed out that Moscow has not undertaken, is not undertaking and will not undertake aggressive activities towards its neighbors and other countries in the world.”

Reality on the ground: The article is partly based on a 28 October article published by The Independent, a British newspaper. However, it is unclear why The Independent and other British newspapers suddenly paid attention to the Rand report eight months after its publication. That report focused on a series of wargames conducted between summer 2014 and spring 2015, in order to test a hypothetical Russian invasion of the Baltics and NATO’s capability to respond. It does not focus exclusively on U.S. capabilities but rather on NATO’s defense capabilities. Nor does the Rand report emphasize a readiness to “hand over Riga in 36 hours, “as’s headline suggests; rather, it focuses on the shortcomings of NATO’s ability to defend the Baltics.  

The Independent article claims that “some simulations had the capitals falling in as little as 36 hours from the start of hostilities.” The newspaper, however, does not claim that Rand analysts have presented new findings that revise the previous predictions, reducing the time necessary for Russian forces to take Riga and Tallinn. Rather, it refers to a Rand report presented in January 2016. In fact, the article misrepresents the report as if it is the result of a new study.

Simultaneously, the article completely ignores Russia’s role in escalating conflict with the West.  By describing Russian aggression as “allegedly emanating” from its foreign policy and aluding to the official peaceful position of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it overlooks Russia’s recent involvement in military conflicts in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. Moreover, it conceals the main idea voiced by U.S. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti and quoted by The Independent: “We need to be strategic and coherent in our approach to defending our citizens. Now is the time for the Alliance to remain strong.”

Technique: Misleading title, card stacking, false facts.

Audience: Russian-speaking minority in Latvia

Analysis: This disinformation case is based on a selective use and over-interpretation of the content produced by Western media. Its main purpose is to undermine NATO’s authority in the Baltics, thus cultivating a sense of insecurity among Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority. At the same time, the article repeats the Kremlin narrative that Russia is a peaceful and benevolent partner interested in a good relationship with its neighbors. This contradictory message helps convey the image of Russia as a great power.