Briefs

Lithuania: 1-7 August 2016

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A pro-Moscow website in Kaliningrad reports that the reckless foreign policies of the Baltic states provoked Eurasia’s geopolitical destabilization.

Event: On 5 August 2016, www.rubaltic.ru, a Russian-language website targeting the Baltic states, published an article by Aleksandr Nosovich arguing that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had provoked the destabilization of Eurasia. In it, the journalist—who is known for his pro-Kremlin views—said that Lithuania’s 2013 presidency of the Council of the European Union and the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013 had caused “tectonic shifts” in global politics that helped destabilize the region. Nosovich also warned of new international shocks when Estonia takes over the EU Council’s rotating six-month presidency in the second half of 2017.

The false facts or narrative:
In his article, Nosovich, blamed the current Russia-EU confrontation partly on Lithuania. He said the tension started during Lithuania’s EU presidency in 2013, when the country “was so desperate to conclude the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement that at first Lithuania had argued with Russia, then Lithuania provoked Russia’s quarrel with Ukraine, and eventually because of Lithuania, Russia quarreled with the whole European Union.” The accord’s conclusion, he said, “bore an anti-Russian character.”

The article says Russia’s idea of Eurasia, as well as another Moscow initiative, “Greater Europe”—a unified Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok to boost economic, political and security cooperation—has been replaced by separate blocs with their own megaprojects: the US-EU TTIP (Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership); Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Silk Road Economic Belt. Nosovich alleges that Estonia’s EU presidency in 2017—which runs 1 July to 31 December—might cause other global conflicts, depending on the instructions Tallinn receives from Washington. Estonia or another Baltic state, for example, might raise issues inconvenient for Russia as happened at the Third Eastern Partnership Summit held 28-29 November 2013 in Vilnius.

Reality on the ground: At that Vilnius summit, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement and a free trade pact with the EU. That followed a decade of efforts by Ukraine to integrate with the West. His decision surprised and disappointed millions of Ukrainians as well as top EU officials, and led to the Euromaidan protests against Yanukovych and eventually his ouster. On 18 March 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and later invaded eastern Ukraine and began providing military support to Ukrainian separatists.

Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia view expanding the Eastern Partnership as one of their foreign policy goals. Lithuania and Estonia channel development assistance to the three Eastern Partnership countries that signed an Association Agreement with the EU: Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Both Estonia and Lithuania strongly support the three countries’ efforts to join the EU. The idea of a Greater Eurasia—a new association that combines the existing EU with Putin’s Eurasian Union—has been popular among Russian politicians for a decade. One variant of this concept would include the incorporation of Russian-speaking territories—especially eastern Ukraine and Crimea—into the Russian Federation.

Techniques: Conspiracy theory; statements without proof; spreading of rumors and anxiety, and testing the reaction.

Audience: Russian-speaking segments of society in Lithuania, the Baltic states, the Kaliningrad region, the West, and Russian domestic audiences. Also targeted are Lithuanians whose second foreign language is Russian and who have watched and read Russian media since Soviet times.

Impact and analysis: Nosovich’s article repeats the pro-Moscow argument that Russia is a victim of Western intrigues, and that the Baltic states are merely instruments of US foreign policy. It repeats the narrative that Russia constructively proposes dialogue and cooperation with the West, and aims to build a “Greater Eurasia” that would benefit both sides. It’s also is linked to Moscow’s efforts to improve its image in order to get the EU’s anti-Russia sanctions lifted by 31 December 2016, when they are scheduled to be renewed. The story’s timing also seeks to strengthen unease about the forthcoming EU Council chairmanship by drawing a parallel with Lithuania’s presidency in 2013. It also spreads the narrative that Lithuania is a dangerous troublemaker and is to blame for current EU-Russia tensions. The author omits the fact Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea and, as a result, the EU introduced sanctions against Russia, with Russia later retaliating by banning some EU imports.