Briefs

Latvia - 15-21 August 2016

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In an interview on the anniversary of the failed 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, former Russian Vice President Rutskoy allegedly says the end of the Soviet Union was a tragedy for the Baltic states.

Event: On 20 August, Latvia’s Russian-language news portal Vesti.lv reported on an interview with the first vice president of the Russian Federation, Alexander Rutskoy, given to Latvia’s Russian-language radio channel Balkom. In it, Rutskoy said the dissolution of the USSR precipitated by the failed 19-21 August 1991 coup against then-President Mikhail Gorbachev was a tragedy for the Baltic states. 

The false fact or narrative:  In the story, Rutskoy argued that “if Latvia had thrived now, if there had been welfare and employment, if the economy had developed, I could have said that the situation is better now. But when it is otherwise—the economy is not developing, the country’s budget is hardly sticking together—then it is not normal.”  The Vesti.lv story was republished from Mixnews, which did not stress the economic loss in the title (“The first cice president of Russia: Only savages use the nationality issues to incite tensions”). However, other Russian-language media in Latvia and Russia that republished this news used Vesti.lv’s more emotionally loaded headline.

Reality on the ground: Neither Mixnews nor Vesti.lv provide a direct quote where Rutskoy actually argues that the Baltic states did not gain anything, but only lost from the Soviet collapse. It is therefore uncertain whether he actually said that, since the test of the full interview is not available on the archive of the radio Baltkom.  Rutskoy’s only statement actually made on the subject concerned Latvia’s economic problems due to the end of the USSR.  That appears to be incorrect: according to  GDP dynamics, the Baltic economies have significantly grown since the collapse of the Soviet regime. 

Rutskoy also does not argue that the Baltic states have turned into savages, as the Vesti.lv title states. Instead, without identifying particular countries, he states that “only savages conflict on the basis of national characteristics” and does not refer to the Baltics in particular.   

Technique: 
  • Misleading title, 
  • changing the quotation, source or context, 
  • card stacking

Audience: Latvian Russian speakers.

Analysis: This case shows how pro-Kremlin media sought to spread the message that the end of the Soviet Union was a historical tragedy thus conveying the Kremlin strategic narrative on the dissolution of Soviet regime as a geopolitical catastrophe.  In covering the coup anniversary, the pro-Kremlin media in Latvia focused on the opinions only of commentators who would condemn the failure of the 1991 putsch at least criticize its consequences (including affecting the Baltic states).   The Kremlin is interested to downplay the progressive narrative which frames the collapse of the USSR as a window of opportunities for the Baltic states.