In Lithuania, disinformation actors are turning their attention to the events of the Russia-Ukraine war but the Kaliningrad transit dispute is still present in their rhetoric. Ukrainian refugees continue to be targeted the most in Estonia and Latvia but new narratives about sanctions on Russia and the economic situation of the West have also appeared.
The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout July 25-31, 2022, including new or shifting narratives and key cases. These development and insights primarily relate to narratives about the following themes:
Events of the Russian invasion to Ukraine
(Negative) Economic Consequences of Sanctions
Conditions of Russians and Russian-speaking Minorities
Military Threats to Eastern Europe/Risk of War Expanding Beyond Ukraine
Military Aid to Ukraine
In Estonia, topics concerning the number of arriving Ukrainian refugees, rising electricity costs, as well as the relocation of WWII Soviet monuments have spurred the flow of disinformation, especially by the EKRE (Conservative People's Party of Estonia).
The three key continuing narratives about refugees are: i) Estonia can no longer afford the expenses related to housing and supporting refugees, as such support is being provided at the expense of Estonian citizens; ii) those refugees who refuse to return home are culturally essentially Russians; iii) Ukrainian refugees are the source of HIV and prostitution. (The number of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia is approaching 50,000. Last week, 1,965 Ukrainian citizens crossed the border into Estonia, 373 of whom were children.)
Viktor Orbán's speech about “the three broken wheels of Europe” has been fully translated into Estonian and published on Uued Uudised. One important argument therein is that Western military help to Ukraine only aggravates the war and sanctions against Russia only hurt the West.
Several individual articles intended to discredit the Ukrainian leadership as corrupt and chauvinistic. Another message connected the war in Ukraine to the Great Reset conspiracy.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 4,800 interactions.
By admitting Ukrainian refugees, Estonia facilitates the trafficking in Ukrainian prostitutes [EKRE Hiiumaa].
“Unfortunately, the super-tolerant neo-Marxists fail to understand that if we do not speak out openly about prostitution originating in Ukraine, we are helping the traffickers who make huge profits by forcing women to sell themselves. Everything would be fine and pretty if such problems did not exist in Estonia, but the growing HIV levels in the country tells a different story, confirming the truth of Helme's warning.”
EKRE supporters seek to justify Mart Helme’s statement that Ukrainian refugee women deal with prostitution in Estonia. Hence, among other things, it is being claimed that Ukrainian pimps traffic prostitutes to the EU from Ukraine under the guise of war refugees. Therefore, by admitting Ukrainian refugees, Estonia facilitates human trafficking.
Ukraine puts a label "pro-Russian" on everybody who made at least a small mistake in the expression of their opinions, even on renowned U.S. journalists and politicians [Vanglaplaneet].
“Thus, the impression is that anyone who, in the opinion of the Ukrainian government, makes the slightest mistake in what they say is immediately labelled a ‘pro-Russian’ propagandist.”
The article claims that persons are being put on the list of pro-Russian actors by the Ukrainian disinformation centre for no clear reason. However, they all spread the classic Kremlin narratives which range from supporting the referendums in the so-called DNR and LNR to statements that NATO provoked Putin. Author also adds that since the beginning of the war everybody who had a different opinion and did not support the U.S. and NATO foreign policy was unjustly accused of spreading Russian propaganda or otherwise serving the Kremlin.
Just as in previous weeks, only a few articles spreading distorted narratives about the war in Ukraine among Latvian-speaking audiences were detected.
Latvian populist politician Aldis Gobzems claims that Ukrainian refugees are given more aid than they need, and that Latvians should instead focus on solving their own citizens’ issues.
Sanctions were claimed to have no effect on the Russian economy but have allegedly brought a lot of damage to the West itself.
Individual messages were detected “exposing” corruption in Ukraine (the narrative that “Ukraine steals Western financial aid”) and spreading traditional fakes about biolabs in the country.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 3,000 interactions.
Ukrainian refugees are taking advantage of Latvia’s goodwill and financial aid [Facebook page].
“And then there are the sheep who are brainwashed by Panorama [the news] and they believe the text - they run away from war, not poverty. Europe is full of such examples. They live, hang out, they do not protect their country, do not collect donations for their people. Because there will be sheep wandering around the shabby Riga with their flags.’’
Latvian populist politician Aldis Gobzems in this post claims that Ukrainian refugees are not fleeing from war, but come to Latvia to live better lives and get richer. He also states that many do not even want to defend their country and are only interested in money.
Gobzems uses some examples of wealthy Ukrainians he has seen during his travels, without offering any evidence. He further engages in generalisation, claiming that all of the refugees behave this way.
The events of the Russia-Ukraine war were covered in the Lithuanian language segment more extensively this week, partially due to the alleged air strike at the Olenivka POW (Prisoners of War) camp. Responsibility for the attack was placed on the Ukrainian army.
The Olenivka strike provided another occasion for pro-Russian voices to again claim that reports of Russian war crimes are all fake. Other conspiracies have continued to circulate: pro-Russian voices in Lithuania claim the war is not real or that there are certain influential people who benefit from the war. “Green funds” conspiracies also continue to be observed: pro-Kremlin messengers claim that the war was provoked to prevent Ukraine from becoming Europe’s major exporter of hydrogen or to create an artificial energy crisis that would allow "green funds” to buy out fossil fuel companies.
The Kaliningrad transit dispute, despite being resolved weeks ago, is still present in the rhetoric of pro-Kremlin messengers, who blame their government for dragging Lithuania into the war with Russia. Lithuania’s efforts to build up its military capacity, as well as the award of the highest state honour to Zelensky, have also been presented as gestures that may provoke Russia to engage in military aggression against Lithuania.
The previously observed campaign to discredit fundraising efforts for Ukraine’s benefit continued into this week. MP Žemaitaitis and Orlaukas again attacked activists collecting money to support Ukraine; Rūta Janutienė implied that the Bayraktar fundraising effort was fraudulent.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 11,600 interactions.
The Russia-Ukraine war is not a real war because it was not declared. Ukraine is still trading with Russia and has not severed diplomatic relations [YouTube channel].
“War on Ukraine is not declared by Russia and Ukraine has not declared a war on Russia. There is no real war going on, diplomatic relations are not severed and the trade between Ukraine and Russia is ongoing and the scope is not small. And Russian gas is being imported through Ukraine.”
The author of the video, Artūras Orlauskas, is a Lithuanian comedian, actor, former member of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (he was expelled by the party for damaging its authority) and a current member of the council of the Lithuanian Family Movement. He is currently active in social media disinformation, including a popular YouTube channel (47.1K subscribers).
To deconstruct some of the claims made by Orlauskas: i) while it is true that neither Russia nor Ukraine has formally declared a war, this makes war no less real, nor does it hide the fact that Russia has started the war; ii) Ukraine cut diplomatic relations with Russia on the day of the invasion. The negotiations that might be happening between the two sides are in no way something that would make war any less real; iii) Ukraine announced a ban on all imports from Russia.
Zelensky is a "bloody dictator" and the human rights situation is worse in Ukraine than in Russia: there is supposedly no freedom of speech, no political opposition, people are being persecuted and killed for political reasons. [laisvaslaikrastis.lt].
“What is the difference between the dictatorships of Russia and Ukraine? The only difference is that people who try to oppose them, in Russia at least, are tried and put in jail. In Ukraine, they are simply killed or go missing.”
Author of the article, Aurimas Drižius, is a known disinformation actor, chairman of “laisvaslaikrastis.lt” - a disinformation site to which access has been prohibited by the Lithuanian authorities.
The general narrative of the article is that Ukraine has essentially become a dictatorship. This is supposedly so bad that the state of freedoms is worse in Ukraine than in Russia - an evidently false claim.
Author also claims that Ukraine is a fascist country and that Russians were being persecuted in the country. He also adds that all the people opposed to the Ukrainian government go missing and this is organised by SBU.
The Ukraine War Disinfo Working Group unites 10 think tanks and research groups, which are working non-stop to monitor Kremlin propaganda in 11 countries.
Our partners: Civic Resilience Innitiative (Lithuania), Analyses and Alternatives (Bulgaria), Prague Security Studies Initiative (Czechia), GRASS (Georgia), Atlatszo (Hungary), MOST (North Macedonia), Fakenews.pl (Poland), Slovak Security Policy Institute (Slovakia), Detector Media (Ukraine).