Conspiracies about Ukrainian refugees spreading sexually transmitted deseases, liberals using Russian invasion to push their anti-traditional agenda, and activists taking advantage of the aid they collect prevailed in the second week of July. The EU sanctions for transit of goods to Kaliningrad through Lithuania remains as the top disinformation narrative.
The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout July 11-17, 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
This week, only a handful of articles were detected targeting Estonian-language audiences with Russian narratives. A significant share of them covered the topic of Ukrainian refugees. Ukrainians are depicted as people spreading dangerous diseases; the Estonian government is allegedly interested in them as a cheap labour force. EKRE continued claiming that that Ukrainians threaten Estonian culture and the economy (this is how they commented on the Minister of Interior’s idea to withdraw weapons permits for those with “anti-Ukrainian” views).
A UN human rights report is misleadingly quoted to highlight that the Ukrainian armed forces used civilians as a human shield. Individual stories are identified aiming to undermine public trust to mainstream media reporting on Ukraine, and discredit Ukrainian leadership.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 2,600 interactions.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces use civilians as human shields and blame the Russian armed forces [Vanglaplaneet].
“A new UN report found that Ukrainian officials ignored the nursing home's request to evacuate its elderly and disabled residents to a safe place and instead mined the surrounding roads and allowed soldiers to take up positions in the nursing home and use civilians there as human shields”. “When a large number of civilians were killed and injured in Russia's attack on Ukrainian military positions and used as human shields, the Ukrainians accused Russia of war crimes”. “This was despite the fact that, when the survivors of the attack fled the building into the nearby forest, it was Russian troops who helped them.”
In fact, the quoted report says that “At the beginning of March 2022, when active hostilities drew nearer to the care house, its management repeatedly requested local authorities to evacuate the residents. This was reportedly impossible as the Ukrainian armed forces had allegedly mined the surrounding area and blocked roads. On 7 March, soldiers from Ukrainian armed forces entered the care house, where older persons and residents with disabilities and staff were located, as it had strategic value due to its proximity to an important road. On 9 March, soldiers from Russian affiliated armed groups, who were approaching from the opposite direction, engaged in an exchange of fire with soldiers from Ukrainian armed forces, although it remains unclear which side opened fire first.” Hence, the article has it wrong that, instead of evacuating the residents of the care house, the Ukrainian forces mined the surrounding roads. The report does not blame the Ukrainian military for using civilians as a shield neither in this or other described cases. However, such tactics are blamed on Russian forces in several other cases described in the report.
Similarly to previous weeks, only a handful of articles was detected targeting Latvian-language audiences with Russian narratives.
Most of the observed articles spread conspiracies around the Russia-Ukraine war, such as: liberals in Ukraine use the war to promote their anti-traditional agenda; there are people making money on the war; the war is a part of a global conspiracy.
Recently, the initiative of obligatory military service was introduced in Latvia, so it is still a topic which is discussed vastly in Latvian public discourse. Pro-Kremlin voices also touched this topic as they questioned the necessity and capacity of Latvia to defend itself in a possible war with Russia, as well as the benefits of NATO membership. Another issue that provided a background for Kremlin propaganda this week is growing food prices, and energy security.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 2,700 interactions.
Liberals in Ukraine are using the war to push their political agenda [Facebook].
Latvian priest and political candidate Māris Jencītis posted on his Facebook page that leftists in Ukraine have started a petition to legalise same gender marriage in Ukraine and that this has happened due to left-wing supporters taking advantage of the war situation. Māris Jencītis is one of the founders of the political party “Latvia in the First Place’’ (Latvija Pirmajā Vietā), which was created in August 2021. “Latvia in the First place” is a conservative party and the author of the post is the Catholic church priest, so that explains the scepticism towards the legalisation of same sex marriage.
The war in Ukraine was started as a business opportunity [Facebook].
This Facebook post contains a photo with an illustration which depicts a businessman sending a soldier into war and then collecting profit, while the soldier himself dies in combat. In the description the author of the post Valentins Jeremejevs has added a hashtag and the phrase “war is business’’. Valentins Jermejevs is a public figure in Latvia and has shared disinformation in the past, including suspicious claims about the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine.
● The focus of this week’s disinformation was concentrated on the events of the war, Lithuania’s implementation of EU sanctions on the transit between Russia and Kaliningrad and military aid to Ukraine.
● Ignas Vėgėlė, a controversial and popular Lithuanian attorney and former chairman of the Council of the Lithuanian Bar, published an opinion piece full of manipulative narratives. The article was highly discussed and referred to by different disinformation actors.
● While the Kaliningrad affair seems to have been diplomatically resolved, pro-Kremlin voices continued speculating with it. They went as far as to say that Lithuania has been put “under a tank”, and this was done to scale up tensions and make the public scared and more easily controlled.
● Like the previous week, developments on the Ukrainian frontlines were in the focus of pro-Russian voices in Lithuania. They picked up and rebroadcast foreign opinions in favour of Russia (like quotes of Noam Chomsky, or articles from “Il Giornale) and accused the Ukrainian army of targeting civilians with HIMAR strikes and burning wheat fields.
● Intensive attempts are recorded to discredit military and financial aid to Ukraine. The narrative goes that military support and any kind of donations to Ukraine are immoral as this is used to attack civilians. Vaidas Lekstutis goes even further, claiming that private donors might end up on a list which could be used by enemy forces if the geopolitical situation changes (i.e. if Russia occupies Lithuania). Ignas Vėgėlė claimed that aid to Ukraine lacks transparency, thus implying that certain individuals and organisations are probably benefiting from this ‘fraud’. This stance was backed by two MPs, who questioned the activities of Andrius Tapinas and Olegas Šurajevas.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 37,600 interactions.
Certain powers financially benefit from the military aid being provided to Ukraine [delfi.lt].
The author, Ignas Vėgėlė, is a controversial Lithuanian attorney, former chairman of the Council of the Lithuanian Bar, known for spreading disinformation on the COVID-19 vaccinations and most recently on the situation of the sanctions on transit between Russia and Kaliningrad for which he had already appeared in a previous report. In the article, he attempts to discredit financial aid to Ukraine by saying that it lacks financial clarity, just like aid during COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the author claims that none of the beneficiaries of financial aid provided necessary forms to the State Tax Inspectorate. However, the forms Vėgėlė is talking about are needed for only very specific types of beneficiaries, so it is probably true that nobody provided them since nobody needed to do that. On the contrary, there were more than 9 thousand of the necessary forms provided. This goes to show that Vėgėlė intentionally decontextualized and misinterpreted facts that are likely true in order to suggest that aid to Ukraine is fraudulent.
“I’ll reveal a secret - not a single subject who provided aid or charity during the pandemic did not fulfil this task [provide a financial report] in time (till the 1st of May). Maybe there was no aid? The same is with aid to Ukraine? Open and public question: did the State Tax Inspectorate fined any institution or company, perhaps we heard about inspections? No, stop it, why? You get charity and go abroad to play poker. Look, you may even gamble your charity money…”
This opinion piece was published by Delfi.lt, one of the biggest media outlets in Lithuania.
Ukrainians hit civilian objects in occupied Kherson with HIMARS rockets [Facebook].
The author, Jonas Kovalskis, is a lawyer and known disinformation actor. He claims that the Ukrainian military has used the HIMARS rockets provided by the West to hit civilian objects in Novaya Kakhovka in the Kherson region. Kovalskis backed his assertion with Russian evidence, which was denied by Ukrainian officials.
"The only thing I don't understand is this: if the Ukrainians, with tears of lies in their eyes, are tearing up that the Russian army is killing Ukrainians with its missile attacks, why is Ukraine in retaliation also killing... Ukrainians?"
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).