In Lithuania and the Russian-language segment of Baltic media, anti-sanctions messaging has been particularly strong due to the Kaliningrad dispute in July. The demolition of Soviet monuments has also led to accusations of 'Russophobia' and 'fascism.'
In Estonia and Latvia, only a small amount of pro-Russian disinformation has been observed across traditional media and Facebook, beyond broad claims that Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees drain resources that should instead be allocated to local citizens.
The following summary analysis is based on extracts from the Interim Report (June-September, 2022) of the Ukraine War Disinfo Working Group, which represents a team of researchers from Debunk.org and our partners. The Interim Report collates insight drawn from the monitoring of narratives trending across pro-Kremlin sites and social media across eleven countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as they relate to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Estonia and Latvia (the national languages)
In the national language segments of Estonia and Latvia, we have observed only a small amount of messaging that contains disinformation or manipulations pertaining to the war in Ukraine.
This phenomenon may be explained by the disinformation resilience of Estonian and Latvian-speaking audiences, as well as their relatively small size, which likely prevents them from becoming priority targets of Kremlin propaganda.
The messaging that we have observed has attempted to appeal to nationalistic and anti-Ukrainian sentiment. Local pro-Russian voices advocate for isolationism and the protection of national interests; strengthened national security instead of military aid to Ukraine; support for local citizens rather than Ukrainian refugees.
The allocation of resources is portrayed as a zero-sum game, where any aid to Ukraine or Ukrainian refugees is claimed to be achieved at the expense of Estonian and Latvian citizens. The anti-refugee messaging also has a strong far-right orientation.
In Estonia, anti-refugee narratives primarily positioned Ukrainian refugees as a drain on society and public services at the expense of local citizens.
The main source of this narrative has been the far-right Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and its associated media outlets such as Uued Uudised, which exploits widespread anti-Russian sentiment.
Ukrainians are presented as of a ‘Russian mentality’, fleeing war but not Russian imperialism, and conversely a possible magnet for Russian aggression towards Estonia.
The government is also accused of using refugees as a cheap source of labour or to undermine Estonia’s ethnic majority. This has resulted in claims that Ukrainians should be sent back to Ukraine in order to fight.
Additionally, Estonian pro-Kremlin voices have claimed that the war in Ukraine is the result of media manipulation and has generally been “orchestrated,” a claim primarily propagated by niche conspiracy outlets such as Vanglaplaneet, Makroskoop, Eestinen and Telegram.ee.
These channels cite major conspiracies such as the Great Reset, as well as repeating or manipulating controversial public statements such as those from the Russian Ministry of Defence or the widely criticized Amnesty International report.
A direct connection between the abovementioned actors and Kremlin propaganda infrastructure has not been established; it is likely that they act as “useful idiots” here, promoting their own agenda in line with Russian disinformation strategy.
In Latvia, it is a similar picture, with a combination of prominent nationalist individuals and populist politicians claiming that Ukrainian refugees are 'prioritised' above Latvian citizens and have become an unjustified 'burden.'
The consequences of sanctions for Latvia have also been in the spotlight, with anxiety over inflation and energy prices exploited to stir up anti-EU sentiment, on the basis that anti-Russia sanction hurt Latvia more than Russia.
As is the case in Estonia, there is also concern that taking in refugees or providing weapons to Ukraine will draw Russian aggression towards Latvia.
Lithuania and Russian language segment of Baltics
Pro-Russian channels in the region have been primarily focused on targeting the Russian-speaking population with anti-sanctions messaging and false claims about development of the war.
Baltic states have particularly strong economic relations with Russia and a dependence on Russian gas, which has allowed the topic of sanctions to become fertile ground for pro-Kremlin voices.
This summer, the Kaliningrad transit issue was a key source of disinformation narratives, including; “The Lithuanian government is dragging the country into war with Russia”, “The Kaliningrad blockade will lead to disastrous consequences for Lithuania’s economy”, and “Lithuania secretly trades with Russia”.
The demolition of Soviet monuments across the region also provoked a wave of claims that the Russian population in the Baltics is being 'victimized' or 'discriminated against.'
Kremlin propaganda labelled this policy as “Russophobic” and alleged that it is opposed by the locals. Governments removing Soviet-era monuments were blamed for “provoking Russia” and “playing games” orchestrated by the West.
Propaganda in the Lithuanian language segment mostly repeats the trends that dominated the Russian-language disinformation media. However, more attention has been given to the Kaliningrad transit dispute and the anti-sanctions messaging is strongly connected with the security agenda.
Russia’s claim that this was a “blockade” was presented as the Lithuanian government creating justification for Russia to attack Lithuania through incompetence. Additionally, the fundraising campaign to purchase a Bayraktar drone for the Ukrainian military was smeared as fraudulent by pro-Russian voices and some MPs.
As in Estonia and Latvia, Lithuanian government policy aimed at supporting Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees is consistently portrayed as harmful to the interests of the local population. There are also claims that the government is using the Russia-Ukraine war to limit democratic freedoms.
Towards the latter end of the report period, rising energy prices have been portrayed by pro-Russian voices and nationalist groups as entirely the fault of the Lithuanian government, with no recognition of the impact of Russia’s actions on destabilisation in the energy market.
It is worth noting that Lithuanian language media is the only segment in the Baltics where the Kaliningrad issue continued to be discussed, even after its resolution; the narrative that this dispute will drag Lithuania into war continues to appear.
The Ukraine War Disinfo Working Group unites 10 think tanks and research groups, which are working non-stop to monitor Kremlin propaganda in 14 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), Press Club Belarus (Belarus), GlobalFocus Center (Romania), European Western Balkans (Serbia).