Тhe Kremlin has enough propaganda experience to advance its agenda, and sow chaos and disagreement, in conjunction with the techniques of media and psychological influence. Apart from Ukraine, which the Kremlin is trying most actively to keep in the orbit of the “Russian world”, the target audience of the Moscow media is European countries, especially the former Soviet Baltic republics: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia.
The Kremlin uses fakes to heat up mostly Russian-speaking people, receptive to Moscow’s propaganda, or national minorities. These are both residents of the region who identify themselves as ethnic Russians, and representatives of other minorities – Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles – who speak Russian as an everyday language. Most Moscowphiles live in Latvia – about 35% of the population. In Estonia, 29% of the population can be included in this target group. Only 6% of the population in Lithuania are ethnic Russians, but the percentage of all nationalities exposed to Russian media is estimated at 14-16%. With such an ethnic structure, the Russian language becomes a natural cultural link through which Russia can easily reach other sections of the Baltic population.
The main fakes about the Baltic states pile up around Russia’s strategic disinformation theses, tested over the years: the rampant Russophobia, the pressure on Russian speakers, the revival of fascism, the decline of European civilisation. They also try to manipulate the minds and hearts of the pro-Russian population of the Baltic states through such postulates as “Europe has turned away from the Baltics,” “NATO is going to leave Lithuania and Latvia.” “Balts should not be afraid of the Kremlin.”
The rubaltic.ru media platform has been one of the Kremlin’s main mouthpieces in the Baltic states since its launch in January 2013. It positions itself as an analytical and information portal, created on the initiative of scientists from Kaliningrad and Moscow who allegedly specialise in studying the socio-political processes of the Baltic region (the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University). Thus, they demonstrate affiliation with the academic community and independent discourse as opposed to media explicitly funded from the federal budget (for example, Sputnik). It is easy to guess the real areas of research of such “scientists.” It is no coincidence that Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and even Poland have become the points of interest of rubaltic.ru as an analytical and DISinformation resource.
The portal traffic is quite high: more than 200,000 unique visitors per month, more than 415,000 views, 100,000 clicks. Geography of traffic is foreseeable: 52% – Russia; 22% – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; 11% – Ukraine and Belarus. At least 25 up-to-the-minute fakes, manipulative op-eds, and pro-Russian analytics appear on the portal every day. And all this is constantly updated in the news services of search engines. It is no coincidence that the op-eds, interviews, and running commentaries were chosen as the genres of rubaltic.ru content. Such genres, by definition, assume the most subjective approach to the presentation of material and allow rejection of any criticism of the objectivity of journalists. Since 2013, the editor-in-chief of the portal is Sergey Rekeda, who is actually the head of the Center for Study of Socio-Political Processes in the Post-Soviet Space, which operates at the Moscow University and works closely with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This fact reveals the close connection of the portal with the Russian federal authorities.
Rubaltic.ru takes the most aggressive attitude against Lithuania. Apart from manipulative analytics, the outlet does not hesitate to use derision, insults, emotional memes, openly false information and denial of official data. The Kremlin’s aggressive rhetoric against the Baltic states is not new. But the beginning of Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014 marked the intensification of the Kremlin’s information warfare against the Baltic states. Western analysts have repeatedly drawn attention to security shortcomings, primarily drawbacks of information security, in the Baltic region and to media threats posed by the Kremlin. Numerous newly-created TV programmes, websites, and Russian disinformation portals have outpaced the Baltic media market. In addition to aggressive media materials intended primarily for the Russian-speaking population of the region, the Russian Federation resorts to intelligence activities and military provocations.
One of the highlights in the rhetoric of rubalctic.ru is the accentuated demonstration of differences between the Baltic states themselves and between the Baltic states (as new EU members) and old Europe. The portal presents Balts as dependent recipients of aid from the United States, unable to build countries on their own. At one time, the dispute between Lithuania and Estonia over the synchronisation of power grids was covered as a serious conflict between the two countries over the distribution of EU funding. And the construction of Nord Stream 2 was portrayed as an attempt by the United States to destroy the common energy market of the EU and Russia. The Kremlin’s experts have similarly hammered the Eastern Partnership programme, which was presented solely as an attempt by the West to drag countries historically linked to Russia (the Baltic states, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus) to its sphere of influence.
A large portion of the portal’s materials is dedicated to Ukraine. At some point, infamous journalist Andrei Babitsky (a former employee of Radio Liberty, a current employee of the separatist media in Ukraine, in particular, ukraina.ru portal) gave an interview for the portal in light of the launch of New Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s transmitter in Lithuania. According to Babitsky, Radio Liberty is a source of “Western mainstream propaganda that seeks to besmirch Russia,” in which information pluralism allegedly exists in contrast to Europe. Babitsky and other authors often resort to historical fakes, presenting the times of the USSR as the only times of prosperity for the Baltic states, fueling differences between the countries (in particular, the issue of Poland’s demand for reparations from Lithuania for lost Eastern border areas during World War II puffs up). In light of President Zelensky’s recent visit to the United States, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying that the United States “continues to turn Ukraine into an anti-Russia and Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO is a direct threat to Russia’s security.”
Of course, the critical mass of the Baltic states’ population, especially European youth, remains deaf to the Kremlin’s mouthpieces. However, it is not worth waiting for the “soft” influence of Russia on the audience of these countries to stop. This is so far the only available form of Russian aggression in this territory. The ability to stop the spread of this aggression depends on the strength of the European information society.
Inna Krupnyk, freelance journalist, commentator and copywriter