A notable rise in anti-refugee messaging was observed in Estonia, with disinformation actors asserting that Ukrainian students will be unable to integrate into the local education system. Meanwhile, Kremlin propagandists in Latvia and Lithuania continued to focus primarily on the global economic and energy crisis by repeating well-rehearsed claims that the ‘poor decisions’ of Western politicians are responsible for the current challenges.
The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout September 12-18, 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, we observed a noticeable rise in anti-refugee messaging. Propagandists speculated that the Estonian educational system can’t properly integrate Ukrainian school and university students, shared some conspiracies about the government’s “real” plans for the refugees, and scared their audiences with an impeding “multiculturalism crisis”. The old narrative that the native population is being replaced with Ukrainians and Russians remains the most prevalent claim.
With respect to the economic consequences of sanctions, the sub-narrative that inflation and the energy crises have been caused by the West’s misguided political approach has emerged as the most prevalent. Conspiracy theory-oriented publications also maintained that sanctions hurt the West more than Russia, claimed that Russia will stop all gas deliveries to Europe, and that the US provoked the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
EKRE and other far-right groups reached a consensus that the energy crisis was caused by the West's Green Deal, with some sources even claiming that Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the consequent sanctions on Russian gas have had no impact on the crisis.
Developments on the frontlines were given relatively little attention, and the successes of the Ukrainian army in the Kharkiv region were not subject to manipulative reporting. However, the recently announced “security guarantees document” for Ukraine received negative commentary. Pro-Russian voices claim that it will entail dangerous military commitments from Estonia.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 3,400 interactions.
This week, we observed only a handful of articles in Latvian-language media that contained manipulative messages about topics related to the Russia-Ukraine war. Almost all of them pushed the economic agenda and fueled public anxiety about the situation in the energy sector. The key narrative continued on from previous weeks: Latvian politicians are responsible for the “crisis” as they are corrupt and have made poor policy decisions that may provoke Russia.
An article portraying the war as a game between Ukrainian and Russian elites intent on making money was detected.
Developments on the frontlines, including Ukraine’s successful offensive operation in the Kharkiv region, were not subject to manipulation or disinformation.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 3,000 interactions.
This week, pro-Kremlin voices focused on discrediting the Lithuanian government, fueling anxiety about the “energy crisis”, and manipulating the developments of the war.
When discussing the situation on the frontlines, propagandists tried to omit the topics of the successful Ukrainian offensive or the Izium massacre. Instead, they accused Ukraine of shelling the Zaporizhzhia NPP and claimed, quoting Viktor Orban, that Western powers are to blame for the war in Ukraine.
All of the disinformation pieces focusing on inflation and the energy crisis essentially repeated the same narrative, intended to mislead the public about a very complex situation. Pro-Russian voices placed the blame solely on the EU or the Lithuanian government and claimed that economic breakdown is imminent and inevitable.
Pro-Kremlin voices also focused on attacking the Lithuanian government, claiming that: i) politicians care about Ukraine at the expense of their own citizens; ii) the government is using the war in Ukraine to limit the freedoms of its citizens; iii) Lithuanian leaders are corrupt and/or incompetent. They alleged that the current government is illegitimate and entirely unprepared for dealing with potential nuclear catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Some went as far as to call the Lithuanian PM and Parliament speaker "rapists of the nation'' due to the looming “cold winter” without Russian gas.
Narratives about the war expanding beyond Ukraine claimed that Lithuania’s construction of new military towns may provoke Russia and that Ukraine’s proposed security guarantees will lead to WWIII.
Conspiracy theories connecting the war in Ukraine with George Soros reappeared this week.
Unlike last week, no direct disinformation attacks against the Ukrainian leadership were recorded. As in previous weeks, disinformation about refugees and the victimization of Russians abroad were not observed.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 7,200 interactions.
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).