No single narrative dominated the disinformation landscape in the Baltics this week, with propagandists largely pursuing existing themes. Ukrainian refugees continued to be prolifically targeted in Estonia, while it was claimed that sustained military aid was harming national security in Latvia. One new sub-narrative was observed, which suggested that Ukraine is developing a ‘dirty bomb,’ while Lithuania saw increasing rhetoric around the prospect of a nuclear strike.
The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout October 24-30, 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 is again dominated by anti-refugee propaganda. EKRE claims to support Ukraine by calling for Ukrainian men who have been able or allowed to leave Ukraine, also via humanitarian corridors to Russia, and have received protection in the EU to be returned to Ukraine for the purpose of their mobilization, even though Ukraine has not made such a request. Additionally, EKRE has intensified its unfounded claims that the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board has lost control over war refugees, that Ukrainian refugees are actually Russians, some of whom may be FSB agents, that Estonians are being forced into an inferior position in society and are threatened by extinction, and that all the current crises have been caused by the government.
When Sergei Shoigu announced the threat of Ukraine using a dirty bomb, it may have added a new element to the existing narratives elsewhere that the Ukrainians are targeting civilians, a nuclear strike is being planned, and that NATO will join the war eventually. In Estonia-language sources, however, this news was reported mostly as said by Shoigu. Only one source was observed to argue in favor of Shoigu's claims by bringing Volodymyr Zelensky's rhetoric against Russia and in favor of western intervention as alleged evidence.
As to EKRE, Mart Helme, one of its leading politicians, claimed that he supported neither Ukraine nor Russia but peace. That statement was later retracted by claiming that, while EKRE certainly supports Ukraine against Russia, their priority is Estonia and peace, which was then modified into accusations against the government, the policies of which EKRE argues to be damaging to both Estonia and Ukraine in favor of Russia.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 1,700 interactions.
This week, we identified only a handful of stories in the Latvian-language segment of social media. These stories touched on the issues of military aid to Ukraine, economic consequences of sanctions, and spread anti-US and anti-Western sentiments.
A particularly noteworthy narrative suggests that the military support sent to Ukraine from Latvia is at the expense of national security. This is a continuing narrative.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 1,500 interactions.
The events of the war appeared at the top of the agenda of disinformation voices in Lithuania. Most prevalent were the statements that the West is using Ukraine to wage war against Russia. Some claim that the war is a "NATO war against Russia" or even that it is a religious war waged by the US against Russia because the latter is a traditional orthodox country of traditional values. False claims about “imminent nuclear threat or disaster” were also quite prevalent. None of the recorded cases mentioned that Ukraine will use a dirty bomb, but it was stated that it is the actions of Ukraine and its allies that are leading to a potential nuclear strike.
Disinformation on Ukrainian refugees was also spotted this week. One questionable news site did a selective translation of the Washington Post's publication "How the EU has fallen short on promises to Ukrainian refugees." They used the topic as an opportunity to attack the EU, with decontextualized figures and statements from the article to exaggerate an impression of isolated and discriminated Ukrainian refugees in the EU.
Anti-sanctions messaging continues. The narrative remains the same: the European economy suffers dramatically because of the short-sighted, anti-Russian policies of the European governments.
Disinformation narratives on military aid to Ukraine focused on it is endangering or weakening Lithuania. Both of the observed cases quoted Lithuania’s Chief of Defence saying that the country should not hand over its (only) medium-range air-defence systems and 155mm artillery pieces. It was claimed that this was said in opposition to the Lithuanian government’s intentional weakening of its own country.
As before, propaganda discourse in Lithuania is full of anti-government and anti-Western messaging. Most popular were the cases which manipulatively claimed that the Lithuanian government is corrupt and/or incompetent. It is claimed that in the context of looming nuclear war the Lithuanian leadership is grossly incompetent, and the government is not properly equipped to deal with an issue of such severity.
Some messages claim that known Lithuanian disinformation actors calling for a cooperation with Russia are fulfilling the Lithuanian constitution and that "Poland-Lithuania-Ukraine-Belarus alliance" propagandists should be prosecuted as real traitors.
It is worth mentioning that while there were cases of disinformation talking about increasing nuclear danger, we did not come across any cases directly related to Ukraine supposedly intending to use a dirty bomb. If there were any such cases, their did not receive enough engagement to register in our data sample.
For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 3,100 interactions.
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).