The Ukrainian military offensive was a key focus of Kremlin propagandists in Estonia, who sought to reject Ukraine's battlefield successes while rehashing old claims that Russia is not yet at full fighting capacity. In Latvia and Lithuania, disinformation actors continued to blame Western sanctions for the economic crisis, manipulatively diverting attention away from Russian military aggression.
The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout August 29 - September 4, 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, developments on the frontlines once again appeared in the spotlight of Russian propaganda. A lot of attention was given to the Ukrainian offensive near Kherson: Kremlin-backed messengers have been united in their denials of the successes of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and have continued to repeat the well-worn claim that Russia is not fighting at its full capacity.
The IAEA monitoring visit to the Zaporizhzhia NPP was also covered extensively and used to, once again, blame Ukraine for shelling both the plant and the town of Enerhodar nearby.
Anti-refugee messaging was also scaled up this week. The key narratives remain the same: i) Ukrainians are Russian-speakers and thus de-facto Russians; ii) Ukrainians are being supported at the expense of the wellbeing of Estonia’s own citizens; and iii) the public is becoming increasingly more tired of Ukrainian refugees.
Individual threats that Russia will attack NATO states for supplying Ukraine with long-range HIMARS missiles were also detected. Sergey Lavrov’s warnings about Russian “countermeasures” against “Russophobic” Baltic states were also rebroadcast.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 4,200 interactions.
The “energy crisis” and inflation - that pro-Russian messengers claim to have been caused by sanctions – have once again been the focus of propaganda in Latvia. The narratives have been consistent across the region: all of the current economic “disasters” have been caused by misguided, non-pragmatic, and short-handed anti-Russian policies. In this way, propagandists manipulatively shift the focus away from Russian military aggression and exaggerate the negative effects of sanctions on local economies.
A noteworthy trend in the Baltics this week is that the topic of “Russophobia” has almost completely disappeared from pro-Kremlin propaganda. We will continue the monitoring in order to determine whether this is a sporadic fluctuation or a meaningful turn in propaganda discourse.
Week by week, individual but regular messages that discredit Ukrainian refugees are being observed.
Pre-election debates have begun on national television. As a result, the arguments that pro-Kremlin messengers usually resort to (like blaming the government for the “energy crisis” or supporting Ukraine at the expense of Latvian security and well-being) have been picked up by populist politicians and brought into the mainstream political debate.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 3,900 interactions.
The most noticeable trend in disinformation narratives is the continued focus on the economic situation of the West, particularly the “energy crisis” and inflation. Events of the Russia-Ukraine war, which previously saw significant attention, have been devoted substantially less attention by disinformation actors this week.
Propagandists highlighted negative trends in Lithuania’s economy (the “energy crisis”, decreased Klaipeda port traffic, or the pause in the Achema’s plant operations) and manipulatively claimed that it is the misguided and short-handed Lithuanian governmental policy that is solely to blame. Associated Press articles were decontextualized to show that the West is secretly trading with Russia. The US is portrayed as duplicitous via claims that it is making a profit from the war and trading with Russia, while simultaneously persuading other states to impose stronger sanctions on Russia at the expense of their own economic interests.
The developments of the Russia-Ukraine war were discussed in a few articles. Pro-Kremlin disinformation actors repeated the claim that Russia had attacked Ukraine because it was ready to attack first; they also echoed the FSB statement that Darya Dugina was assassinated by Ukrainian special services.
This week, disinformation about Ukrainian refugees has reappeared, focusing on how Ukrainian refugees are supposedly being prioritised over Lithuanians.
The narrative that Lithuania is escalating the war also reappeared this week. In all 3 of the identified cases, Lithuania was blamed for its “foolish and provocative” foreign policy, which only escalates conflict with Russia and other countries.
The deconstruction of Soviet monuments in the region was not given much attention this week.
A range of conspiracies continue to circulate in Lithuania’s disinformation media environment, including: i) biolabs and other Western experiments in Ukraine; ii) Zelensky being a drug addict iii) Western media manipulating people and lying about the war; iv) the war being started to serve the interests of the military industry; and v) the Lithuanian government using the war to limit the freedoms of its citizens.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 4,900 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).