Pro-Kremlin actors stoke energy crisis fears to fight back against economic sanctions

In Latvia and Lithuania, pro-Kremlin voices primarily focused on public concern regarding the current energy crisis in an effort to drive political opposition to Russian sanctions, while several new narratives were observed in Estonia, including the notion that Western countries are using Ukraine to wage war on Russia.


The following overview summarises developments in disinformation narratives monitored in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania throughout August 15-21, 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:


  • The dismantling of the Narva tank monument was a prominent feature of Estonia’s political agenda this week. The ‘Estonia 200’ party announced that it would leave Narva's ruling coalition, as the incident proved their differences in leadership, culture and values with the mayor of Narva, Katri Raik, to be insurmountable. Politician Yana Toom claimed that the removal of the tank destroyed all attempts at the integration of Estonian society, while ex-president Kersti Kaljulaid argued against this claim.

  • This week, Estonia’s media saw the emergence of numerous new pro-Kremlin narratives.

  • In the pro-Kremlin segment of social media, individual articles were detected promoting the narratives that; i) the West is using Ukraine to wage war on Russia; ii) the West is losing interest in helping Ukraine; iii) Western weapons are being misused and stolen in Ukraine; and iv) the Estonian government seeks to use the war to limit its citizens’ freedoms.

  • Pro-Kremlin messengers and the EKRE political party increased their alarming rhetoric about the negative trends in the energy sector.

For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Estonian media this week received 3,600 interactions.


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


Disinformation narratives in Estonia regarding refugees and the economic consequences of sanctions


Disinformation narratives in Estonia regarding military aid to Ukraine


Disinformation narratives in Estonia regarding other themes related to Ukraine


LATVIA


Overview:


  • This week, the topic of the energy crisis was the primary focus of pro-Kremlin social media discourse in Latvia. Like in other countries across the region, such messages exaggerate the negative trends in the energy sector and manipulatively portray public opinion as frightened of and opposing the government’s energy and sanctions policies.

  • With the parliamentary elections approaching, the topic of the energy crisis was actively used by candidates to escalate public emotions and get political points. It is note worthy that all of the messages pertaining to the energy crisis topic this week were issued by political candidates.

  • In addition to that, individual messages claiming that the Latvian government uses the war in Ukraine to deceive the population and shift public attention away from real problems were detected.

For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Latvian media this week received 3,100 interactions.


Disinformation narratives in Latvia regarding the economic consequences of sanctions


Disinformation narratives in Latvia regarding other themes related to Ukraine


Key examples:


Latvian politicians give attention to Ukraine in order to divert attention away from local problems [Facebook]


  • Well-known populist politician Aldis Gobzems begins by mentioning that he watched a state-media released daily news program called Panorama. Gobzems claims that news about Ukraine is shown in the media only to make the citizens of Latvia forget about other issues, which need to be solved.

"I watched Panorama the other night. I wanted to understand if I am not wrong when I say that all those who watch Panorama are saffronized empty-headed sheep. In theory, it should be a news program, but it is primitive propaganda for an empty-headed audience. [...] Three stories about war. Half a year from the beginning of the war. Even assuming that it is news, it can qualify as ‘old news’. Clearly, the three plots about the war are just to massage the brain. Not three stories about what has been done in the field of heat supply, about dirty Riga, and the fact that millions are stolen even for the demolition of the monument."


LITHUANIA


Overview:


  • As in many of the other countries monitored for this report, the economic agenda and the energy crisis,in particular,were the central themes of Kremlin propaganda. Negative trends in the energy sector were highlighted and blamed on the allegedly non-pragmatic governmental policy. To stop inflation, pro-Kremlin voices in Lithuania called for a cessation of aid to Ukraine.

  • Articles published by The Financial Times were decontextualized to claim that sanctions against Russia don’t work.

  • Pro-Russian messengers are attempting to shape public opinion in a way that places full responsibility and blame for the events at the Zaporizhzhia NPP on Ukraine. The state is once again blamed for “nuclear terrorism,” as it allegedly prepares an attack on the NPP.

  • The general messaging that “the West wages war on Russia” and “Ukraine is a puppet of the West” has continued.

  • Following the general trend in the Baltics, Lithuanian pro-Russian messengers increased messaging about alleged Russophobia in their country. It’s claimed that attacks on Russians and Russian culture “exceeded all boundaries” and "shake the foundations of Western democracy."

  • Attacks on activists fundraising for Ukraine (particularly Andrius Tapinas) are still observed, but in individual articles or posts. Claims that donating to the Ukrainian military is “immoral” as it allegedly leads to more civilian casualties were also observed.

  • Finally, there were recurring claims that the Ukrainian government is incompetent, the Western media is lying, Lithuania is using the war to repress its citizens, as well as various other conspiracy theories about the war.

  • No messages were observed about Ukrainian refugees or the war’s potential expansion beyond Ukraine.

For comparison, the most interacted with individual Ukraine-related article across all Lithuanian media this week received 4,400 interactions.



Disinformation narratives in Lithuania regarding 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


Disinformation narratives in Lithuania regarding military aid to Ukraine



Disinformation narratives in Lithuania regarding other themes related to Ukraine


Key examples:


Attacks on Russians and Russian culture has crossed all boundaries in Lithuania [Facebook]


  • Eglė Jūrėnaitė seems to be the partner of Vaidas Žemaitis-Lekstutis, a known disinformation actor previously convicted of anti-constitutional activities. She has appeared in some of his disinformation videos. She has previously claimed that: a) it is mandatory to hang up Ukrainian flags if you want to avoid negative attention; b) Lithuania is provoking Russia so that it would attack it; and c) if you are Russian, you must wear blue and yellow clothes, otherwise you are an enemy of Lithuania. Her most recent post also implied that Andrius Tapinas is stealing the money donated to his fundraisers for Ukraine and that there is pressure for every Lithuanian patriot to donate to his campaigns: “Every Lithuanian patriot must donate to Tapinas (oh, sorry, Ukraine).”

“People, wake up. The despising of another nation has gone beyond all limits. The hatred of another nation has gone beyond all limits. Destroying Russian culture, Russian literature, removing all Russian-language books from the shelves, destroying Russian drama theatre, destroying Russian classical music... and, finally, historical monuments. Destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy... You are afraid that the Russians will come. I am afraid that we will self-destruct before anyone else comes. There will be no need for guns -pensioners and people living in poverty will simply starve to death. Or from the cold. Because they won't be able to pay for the essentials of life.”
 

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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