Every year in Russia, May 9th is celebrated as "Victory Day" with elaborate ceremonies. However, in Kremlin media, it has become a pretext to accuse the Baltic countries of neo-Nazism, "Russophobia," and rewriting history. Usually, the topic has received attention on various pro-Kremlin websites, but this year the coverage significantly decreased. This may be related to the increasingly obvious decline in Russian power, especially due to the weakened military performance in Ukraine.
Traditionally in Russia and its sphere of influence, May 9th, which marks the Victory Day in World War II, is a celebration of military might and Russian imperial chauvinism. However, it was not always like this. This date became an official state holiday in 1964 when Leonid Brezhnev's supporters took power in the Soviet Union and turned it into a cornerstone of the Soviet nation's ideology.
Until then, World War II and the date marking its end were mostly associated with negative memories. The fact that Stalin sent tens of millions of people to their deaths left a deep psychological trauma that was passed down from generation to generation. Everyone dealt with these negative memories in their own way, with many trying to ignore or suppress them in their subconscious. The situation changed when Soviet propaganda popularized the myth of the heroic Soviet people and their Victory in the "Great Patriotic War".
Over time, the myth of victory over "fascism" was paradoxically combined with the constant struggle against the same "fascism" that had already been defeated. This became a cornerstone of the legitimacy of the entire Soviet empire.
Later, at the end of the 20th century, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin's regime inherited this never-ending heroic struggle against "fascism" and revived the myth of the invincibility of the empire. The pompous Victory Day parades became a cherry on top of the resurgent Russian imperialism.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the Russian attack on Ukraine has significantly undermined the myth of Kremlin's invincibility. The resistance of Ukrainians shattered the image of Moscow's imperial power.
This year, there is noticeably less information about Victory Day in Kremlin-friendly media than in previous years. This may be due to several reasons. Firstly, the myth of Kremlin's invincibility and its obvious weakness in Ukraine is difficult to reconcile even in the minds of the biggest imperialists. Therefore, for some time now, Kremlin propaganda has been repeating the claim that Russia is not fighting against Ukraine but against NATO as a whole - supposedly, that is why the war turned out to be so difficult.
On the one hand, this is an attempt to hide the significant losses of the Russian army, as military parades usually showcase the most advanced weapons, some of which have already been destroyed, while the rest are extremely necessary in Ukraine. On the other hand, an atmosphere is created that the "great motherland" is once again in danger, so there is a need for concentration and less frivolous celebration. Russian society is being accustomed to the idea that the war will not end quickly and may demand personal sacrifices from many. In addition, the attempt to limit the May 9th events may have arisen out of fear that they could become a potential source of anger due to the large number of Russian casualties in Ukraine. Some experts even considered last week's drone strikes on the Kremlin to be another excuse to postpone or at least reduce the scale of the celebrations throughout Russia.
According to the analysis conducted by Debunk.org, between April 18th and May 1st, 2023, 47 pieces of content containing disinformation about Lithuania in the context of Victory Day (May 9th) were published in media favorable to the Kremlin. This is two and a half times less than during the same period last year (125 publications).
Despite the reduced scale, there was certainly no shortage of loud accusations against Lithuania and other Baltic countries. The most impressive news were the allegations that Lithuania is coordinating future counterattack plans with Ukraine and intends to carry out a terrorist act in the Kaliningrad region on May 9th. As Victory Day approaches, there are public discussions about an increasing possibility of terrorist attacks, which are supposedly aimed at ruining the holiday for people. To illustrate this scenario, recent stories were used: for example, about sabotage groups in the Bryansk region and a "strange incident" in the town of Neman next to Lithuanian boarder, where an enemy drone allegedly dropped a homemade explosive in a high-rise residential area.
According to the interview with the director of the Military and Political Conflict Research Center, Andrejus Klincevicius, on mk.ru, 'the enemy is planning a big provocation with an invasion deep into our territory on May 9th.' According to the article, this attack could come from the Baltic states or Poland, where the Ukrainian army is conducting exercises. While Poland allegedly does not want a war with Russia, it will not start one because it understands that Europe will not follow it into a "nuclear abyss". According to Klincevicius, 'the Baltics have never been independent and developed states. Everything they had - industry, nuclear power plants - is closed. Therefore, they have no choice but to sell themselves to be used as a springboard for an attack against Russia. And they are likely to do so because they are insane people.' The article goes on to say that refugees from Russia could also be terrorists who easily carry out sabotage in a small town on the Lithuanian border.
Since similar topics were discussed on other portals, such as aif.ru and lenta.ru, this was more likely a coordinated effort to create a justification for future attacks against Lithuania and its neighbors in the eyes of their own society, rather than just the opinion of a single expert. Furthermore, publications were released alleging that Lithuanian freedom fighters committed "crimes" against the Soviet people, apparently to reinforce the image of Lithuanians as a nation nurturing terrorist attitude.
Publications aimed at marking the 80th anniversary of the Soviet military counterintelligence unit “Smerch” repeated the cliché that Lithuanian partisans, called "Forest Brothers," were actively trying to make life difficult for the Soviet government by organizing terrorism. They attacked from ambushes, terrorized residents, and killed not only Soviet activists but also their families. It is said that Lithuanian partisans behaved like Ukrainian nationalists who quartered or chopped Soviet soldiers with an ax when they were taken prisoner.
Latvia and Estonia also received some negative attention. According to pro-Kremlin media, the Baltics were the first former USSR members to almost destroy Soviet monuments completely. Among others, the removal of Aleksandr Pushkin's statue from a park in Riga, the ban on public celebration of Victory Day by the Latvians on April 20th (demonstratively emphasizing the date of Adolf Hitler's birthday), and the law passed by the Estonian parliament allowing police to independently interpret which symbols are hostile and thus effectively banning Russian imperialist emblems such as St. George's ribbons, Soviet and Russian flags, were mentioned.
Actions taken by Latvia were met with great pain in the Kremlin media - the removal of the Pushkin monument was commented on by the head of Rossotrudnichestvo agency, Yevgeny Primakov, and the ban on celebrating May 9th was resented by the State Duma and the representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova.
Primakov stated that the decision of the Riga City Council to demolish the monument to the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin is 'just another example of madness, and if the Latvians want to overcome the Russian heritage in Riga, they should demolish the country's industry and its statehood,' meaning that Latvia is allegedly an exclusively Soviet creation.
The State Duma of the Russian Federation released a statement that Latvia's decision to ban Victory Day events "is another step towards the rehabilitation of Nazism, another step towards distorting common history, another step that insults the memory of heroic ancestors."
Meanwhile, Maria Zakharova said that the mentioned ban is 'another proof that the lawmakers of Latvia serve the revanchist ambitions of the ruling neo-Nazi elite. May 9th is not a day of victory for them, but a day of defeat. For us, it is a day of victory over fascism and Nazism.' She also added that the Latvian parliament does not represent all Latvian citizens because a large part of the population is deprived of their basic democratic right to participate in elections and cannot determine the composition of the highest legislative institution of the country.
The increased attention to Latvian actions shows that Moscow feels it is losing the one Baltic country that was considered the most vulnerable to the Kremlin’s influence. Most publications about the May 9th events were some forms of criticism of Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors, who are allegedly copying one another and competing who is better at rewriting history, insulting the victory over Nazism, and further establishing Russophobia and repression towards other ethnic groups. These “competitions” allegedly take place due to the political dependence of the Baltics on the United States, which does not reflect the true interests of society - ordinary people still secretly celebrate Victory Day.