Valentin Rozentsov, editor-in-chief of Sputnik Latvia, claims he was detained at Riga airport on 4 July and interrogated at the headquarters of the Security Police for almost 12 hours about his work. His claims are false and are part of Russia’s effort to undermine Latvian authorities.
Russia’s state news outlet Sputnik, also called the “Kremlin misinformation machine” by NATO officials, reported Rozentsov’s account that he “spent all night at the Security Police headquarters” and was released only the next morning. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, according to Sputnik, called the detention “a part of Latvian policies, aimed against Russian media in the country.”
The claims made by Mr. Rozentsov are “false news,” the Latvia Security Police told Delfi, the leading online media in Latvia. The main purpose of the Sputnik Latvia “is to provide informational support to Russia for the implementation of its political interests in Latvia by publishing or distributing untested and misleading information,” claimed the police. According to the Security Police’s official statement, Rozentsov was not detained and interrogated as defined by Latvian criminal procedure. The police did not deny or confirm that a conversation took place.
Sputnik Latvia, according to Latvian authorities, is funded by Russia and actively seeks to amplify Russia’s geopolitical messages in Latvia’s domestic information space. Along with Sputnik, created by the Russian international information agency Rossiya Segodnya, the Security Police identify other Russia-sponsored and backed media outlets – such as Baltnews.lv and the radio station Autoradio – as working to advance Russian interests in the country.
Other pro-Russian media were quick to respond with several follow-up articles and “expert” views substantiating Rozentsov’s claims. RIA Novosti interviewed Miroslav Mitrofanov, a politician from the Latvian Russian Union, a political party that does not have any seats in the Latvian parliament Saeima, but does have one representative in the European Parliament. “There is a cold war between the West and Russia, and part of it is information war,” Mr. Mitrofanov told RIA Novosti. Mr. Mitrofanov also noted that Rozentsov’s alleged detention showed that Latvia is irritated by Sputnik’s work. “The ruling parties of Latvia can remain in power unlimitedly only if there is no alternative information in Latvian,” he said. Vesti.lv, which is the most popular media among Latvia’s Russian speaking population and is known for spreading distorted information, reported on the situation under a controversial headline, “Latvian manœuvrer against Russian-speakers.” It also reported that Bebe Santa-Wood, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, “hopes that the chief editor of Sputnik Latvia, Valentins Rozhentsov, will be able to continue working without problems.”
Russia’s policymakers say one thing, but do another. The Russian ambassador to Latvia, Yevgeny Lukyanov, recently stated in an interview with Latvia’s national newspaper Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze that questions about Russian election interference in Latvia is “fake.... Ask yourself – why do we need that?” While Russian officials deny any interference, activities of Russian-backed media like Sputnik increases. Reporting “facts or statements that are not backed up with proof or sources” is a typical technique used by the Kremlin. Use of such techniques will probably increase this year because the parliamentary elections are set for this fall, according to the annual report of the Latvian Security Police. The report states that “Russian information resources may provide a useful platform for even more concerted efforts to influence public opinion in Latvia in accordance with the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals.”