Briefs

Latvia - 22-28 August 2016

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A news report on the state-owned Rossija 24 television channel, broadcast in Latvia, mocked U.S. Vice President Biden’s visit to Latvia on 22-23 and accused NATO of violating the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act.   

Event: On 23 August the Russian state-owned federal TV channel Rossija 2  reported on the visit of USA Vice President Joe Biden to Latvia where he met with the presidents of the Baltic states and gave a major speech pledging U.S. support for those countries’ security. 

The false fact or narrative:  Rossija 24 framed the as a U.S. reaction to the concern of Baltic leaders that Republican presidential candidate to Donald Trump’s may reduce U.S. support for NATO if he were elected and to advance a narrative of NATO belligerence.  The journalist called Biden a “superman” and compared him to Bill Kilgore, the arrogant and U.S. army officer in the film “Apocalypse Now” who loves war and whose methods in battle are senseless and absurd.  Along with scenes from the film, the journalist added Kilgore’s famous quote, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. This is the smell of victory.” (See the video starting from 00:58).  The reported said Biden also “favors the smell of napalm since he advocates the deployment of NATO troops in the Baltic states.”  The story also stated that NATO’s  recent decision to deploy four alliance battalions in Poland and the Baltic states violates the 1997 NATO-Russian Founding Act, the blueprint for cooperation between the two sides.  The story claims that the document prohibits the deployment of military bases at Russia’s borders.   

The Rossija 24 journalist also argued that the residents of the Latvian capital Riga were not happy with this visit, as it made difficult to move around the city.  This claim was supported by older, and unrelated, film footage of the French Embassy in Riga, which showed people laying flowers at the embassy after one of the recent terror attacks in Paris (See the video starting from 00:39).  The video was a strong contrast with the preceding footages of a smiling, apparently insensitive Biden. 

Reality on the ground: Vice President Biden assured his audience that the U.S. will guarantee the security of the Baltic States under Article Five of the NATO treaty that provides for the collective defense of alliance members.  The allegation that Biden came to Latvia to ease the concerns of Baltic presidents concerned about the prospects of a Trump victory is presented as fact with little support. The story does not demonstrate any evidence that the residents of Riga were disappointed the Biden’s visit.  

The 1997 treaty between NATO and Russia does not prohibit the deployment of military bases at the borders of Russia.  In the 1997 Founding document NATO members and Russia stated they did not see each other as adversaries, and, ″based on an enduring political commitment undertaken at the highest political level,” would “build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security.”   The parties stated they did not see each other as adversaries, and, ″based on an enduring political commitment undertaken at the highest political level, will build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security.”  Moscow has repeatedly shown it is no longer abiding by the terms of the document.

Neither the United States nor NATO ever pledged that the alliance would not expand to Russia's borders.  The recent NATO troop deployments to are an appropriate response  to provocative Russian actions in the neighborhood (Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, invasion of Ukraine, and the increasing size and frequency of military exercises.).  These moves violate the Founding Act principles.

Technique: Ridiculing, discrediting, diminution, false visuals. 

Audience: Latvian Russian speakers, viewers in Russia.

Analysis:  Moscow apparently coordinated pro-Kremlin media coverage in Latvia and Russia to discredit Biden’s trip.  For example, the local Russian-language media interviewed several Latvian experts who were critical of the Biden’s visit.  A major strategy apparently was to mock the Vice President by using images from popular culture, apparently to ridicule Biden’s alleged warmongering mindset.  This depiction reflects the Kremlin’s longstanding strategic narrative towards NATO: the alliance is showed as an aggressor, with the U.S. highlighted as its main belligerent party.