The False Fact or Narrative
On February 3, the British TV channel BBC2 broadcasted a pseudo-documentary “World War Three: Inside the war room” which focused on a hypothetical scenario where Russian-speaking separatists stage a coup d’état in Latgale, a South-eastern region of Latvia, and declare the Peoples’ Republic of Latgale. In the film, this coup d’état leads to a severe conflict between NATO and Russia. This film provoked very heated and lasting debates in Latvia. That provided a ground for a pro-Kremlin discourse.
Discussion on the film started before it was premiered. On February 1, the advocate of Russian-speakers’ rights Alexander Gaponenko argued that the purpose of the BBC film is to hound the Latgalians and Russians. After the premier Gaponenko, in turn, stated that the purpose of the BBC film is to prepare the Baltic states as a bridgehead from which NATO could attack Russia. According to Gaponenko the film is a part of a broader intimidation strategy that will make Latvians indifferent towards the idea of “imprisoning Russian-speaking activists in concentration camps.” Gaponenko’s opinion was extensively shared on social networking sites (e.g. during the reporting period the article containing Gaponenko’s opinion was shared 305 times on Facebook). Another prominent activist of Russian-speakers’ rights Vladimir Linderman argued that, regardless of some shortcomings, the authors of the BBC film have created a realistic scene: by discriminating the Russian-speaking community Latvia and Estonia incites the third world war.
Latvian politicians of ruling parties largely avoided expressing any sharp opinion on the film. Conversely, the leader of the largest opposition party “Harmony” Janis Urbanovics announced that the BBC film has generated big losses to Latvian economy, as “no one will be willing to have a long-term cooperation and economic contacts with a country where, as the BBC film shows, there is such a high likelihood to be invaded by Russia.” Vladimir Simindey, the head of research programs at the Kremlin-supported foundation “Historical Memory”, argued that with this film London intends to incite artificial fear from Russia, in order to convince Latvia to buy British armoured vehicles which are out of date; this opinion was published on the internet site of “Rossiskaja gazeta” and the article was shared 55 times on Facebook.
Although prominent advocates of Russian speakers’ rights (e.g. Gaponenko, Linderman, Girss) in Latvia have invoked the ideas of the autonomy of Latgale, the authors of abovementioned interpretations largely avoid supporting separatism in Latgale as depicted by the BBC film. Instead, they focus on the UK and NATO motivation to create such a film, emphasizing that the major purpose was to disseminate fear in Latvian society as well as in the societies of other Baltic states. At the same time these opinions convey extremely speculative interpretations which are presented as facts. That is to say, there are no evidences that the film invite Latvians to isolate Russian speakers in ‘concentration camps’; the film cannot influence the economic situation of Latvia, and there are no evidences that it might be somehow related to the acquisition of weapons for Latvian army.
The analysis of various conspiracy theories which allegedly explain the creation of the BBC film.
The target audience of this disinformation is Latvians and Latvian Russian speakers. Likewise the Russian TV news stories highlight that Latvian politicians are also critical vis-à-vis the film. Hence these news to some extent are also addressed to Latvian decision makers, in order to show that that their assessment is similar to the way how Russian politicians see the film.
Reaction to the BBC2 film in Latvia should not be seen as something extraordinary, as it was already encoded in the provocative nature of the film. However, it is important to note that opinion leaders of Latvian Russian speakers interpret the film via local contexts while Russia’s media are more tended to frame the film in terms of global conspiracy theories and geopolitical struggle. Moreover Russian media also stress that the West are inclined to portray Russia as an aggressor and threat to NATO states. In fact, such a demonization strategy has been systematically used by Russian propaganda to undermine Western intentions. Responses to this film suggest that Russian media as well as Latvian Russian speakers are somewhat embarrassed trying to interpret the complicated, but assertive genre of the BBC film.