Disinformation actors seek to legitimize Russia’s sham referendums

Recent developments in the Russia-Ukraine war drew the focus of pro-Kremlin voices in Lithuania, with attempts to legitimize Russia’s sham referendums in occupied territories and falsely accuse the West of provoking the conflict. Across the Baltics, disinformation actors continued to weaponize the energy crisis to undermine support for Ukrainian refugees.


The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout September 19-25, 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

  • Refugees

  • Conditions of Russians and Russian-speaking Minorities

  • Military Threats to Eastern Europe/Risk of War Expanding Beyond Ukraine

  • Military Aid to Ukraine


ESTONIA


Overview:


  • Estonian far-right actors are generally supportive of Ukraine's successes against Russia. As a result, we have not observed significant disinformation about the developments of the Russia-Ukraine war, the mobilization in Russia, or the staged “referenda”.

  • Instead, the discourse of far-right groups focused on manipulative criticism of the Estonian government over the “energy crisis” and increased cost of living. They also continue to rely on antimigrant narratives, making generalisations about all Russian speakers. Anti-refugee messaging was especially notorious this week.

For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 3,900 interactions.


Disinformation narratives in Estonia regarding refugees


Disinformation narratives in Estonia regarding the economic consequences of sanctions and other themes related to Ukraine




LATVIA


Overview:


  • This week, only a handful of articles containing disinformation about the Russia-Ukraine war were detected in the Latvian language media environment. They either blamed the “energy crisis” on the corrupt and short-sighted Latvian politicians or attempted to cultivate public fatigue of the war and Ukrainian refugees.

  • Narratives related to the staged “referenda” in the occupied territories, the mobilization in Russia, and Russian migrants were not observed.

  • Parliamentary elections in Latvia will take place on October 1st. Our monitoring suggests that populist politicians running for elections -- namely, Aldis Gobzems and Sandris Tocs -- are using pro-Kremlin disinformation in their election campaigns, attempting to discredit the current political elite and mobilize their electorates.

For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 3,800 interactions.


Disinformation narratives in Latvia regarding Ukrainian refugees and the economic consequences of sanctions


Disinformation narratives in Latvia regarding other themes related to Ukraine


LITHUANIA


Overview:


  • The recent developments of the war in Ukraine had a notable effect on Lithuania’s disinformation trends this week. Unlike in previous weeks, the events of war and the possibility of the war expanding beyond Ukraine were given the most attention.

  • Covering the events of the war, pro-Kremlin voices blamed the West for waging war on Russia. Messaging attempting to legitimize the “referenda” on the occupied territories was also prevalent. Local disinformation actors quoted Putin’s statements that the West is being openly aggressive towards Russia and is to blame for the deaths of innocent people in Ukraine, as well as “terrorist attacks” on Russian territories. Shoigu’s interview, where he claimed that Ukraine is running out of “cannon fodder” and that the West is essentially fighting in Ukraine, was also utilized.

  • Lithuania’s response to the mobilization in Russia – placing the Rapid Reaction Force on high alert and closing its borders to Russian migrants – was claimed to be an aggressive gesture that could provoke Russia into military action. The latter policy was also presented as evidence of Lithuania’s fascism and Russophobia.

  • The “energy crisis” was mentioned only in a handful of individual articles. The topic was at the top of the pro-Russian disinformation agenda in Lithuania over the previous weeks.

  • Individual messages intended to discredit the Ukrainian leadership, as well as Andrius Tapinas and Oleg Šurajev, continue to appear.

  • Disinformation about Ukrainian refugees or military aid to Ukraine was not observed this week.

  • The Facebook pages “Teisininkas Jonas Kovalskis” and “Pilietis” were the most prominent pro-Kremlin messengers this week. They were the authors of 9 out of 20 disinformation articles identified. The person managing both pages is likely to be Jonas Kovalskis. Although he has been very active in publishing pro-Russian disinformation throughout the monitoring period, his posts were particularly prevalent this week.

For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 6,200 interactions.




Disinformation narratives in Lithuania regarding the events of the Russia-Ukraine war


Disinformation narratives in Lithuania regarding the economic consequences of sanctions


Disinformation narratives in Lithuania regarding the conditions of Russians and the risk of war expanding beyond Europe



Disinformation narratives in Lithuania regarding other themes related to Ukraine

 

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.

 

Report prepared and first time published on the DebunkEU.org web page.

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