180-degree turn: Lithuania accused of lying about the consumption of energy from BelNPP

This analysis was carried out with a contribution from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania

In February, the scope of disinformation cases about Lithuanian position on the BelNPP increased more than a half thus the contact reach of these messages increased accordingly. The main reason why this happened might be related to events such as the announcement of Ministry of Energy of Belarus that Lithuania lies about the consumption of electricity produced in the BelNPP, the eventual visit of the ENSREG safety expert delegation to BelNPP and the resolution of the European Parliament.

According to DebunkEU.org senior analyst Algirdas Kazlauskas, this might indicate that in addition to the goal of protecting the BelNPP from negative information, pro-Kremlin media probably has another goal — to discredit the Lithuanian authorities and its policy at any given circumstance.

DebunkEU.org and LMFA analysis has shown that in February, there was a noticeable increase in messages about the allegedly unreasonable disconnection of Lithuania and other Baltic states from the BRELL network. ‘This can be related to the determination of the new Lithuanian Government not to delay the BRELL disconnection project anymore and to start systematically implementing its plan’ says Mr Kazlauskas.

While carrying out the analysis, two main triggers were distinguished. Proliferation of the first disinformation wave (February 4th-5th) resulted from the public accusations made by the Belarusian Ministry of Energy. It was alledged that the Ministry of Energy of Lithuania is spreading false information about the consumption of electricity from the BelNPP. ‘The official statement suggested checking the website of the Lithuanian system operator Litgrid, where the amount of commercial electricity flow from Belarus to Lithuania was said to be equal to zero’ says Mr Kazlauskas.

According to the analyst, this move was made when Lithuania was accused of allegedly lying about the consumption of the commercial electricity from the BelNPP, which marks a slight change of the previous communication strategy. ‘Before, pro-Kremlin media interated that Lithuania, no matter how hard it tried, would still be forced to buy electricity from BelNPP,’ explains the expert ‘but now, when the representatives of both the Lithuanian Parliament and Government have acknowledged that electricity indeed enters the Lithuanian market and have promised to find a solution to prevent it, the propaganda has turned 180 degrees and started claiming the opposite — that Lithuania does not buy electricity from the BelNPP’.

The analysis has shown that the second wave of disinformation emerged on February 11th, when the European Parliament voted for a resolution calling for a halt to the commercial operation of the BelNPP until all safety recommendations will be implemented. ‘The Ministry of Energy of Belarus called this document a politicised action and emphasised that it was adopted without waiting for the preliminary report of the nuclear safety experts from ENSREG, who’s group eventually visited the plant early in February after several refusals of the Belarusian side’ says Mr Kazlauskas.

Just before the adoption of the EP resolution, the visit of ENSEREG experts to the BelNPP was widely publicised in pro-Kremlin media.

‘The coverage was heavily focused on sincere willingness of Belarus to cooperate and provide answers to all questions’ says Mr Kazlauskas ‘however, the fact that this visit should have taken place way earlier was never mentioned’.

According to the analyst, the whole story was as if naturally used to criticise the resolution of the European Parliament which hinted at Belarus’s reluctance to cooperate on safety issues.

‘In addition to these events, it should be noted that a tendency to write about the process of disconnection from the BRELL network (which is related to the general topic about energy independence) intensified’ says Mr Kazlauskas. The analysis has shown that in February, pro-Kremlin media sought to emphasise that the intentions of Lithuania and other Baltic countries to switch to the Western energy network are not based on economic benefits and the interests of ordinary consumers.

‘To support this message, pseudo-stories have been published about alleged corruption that supposedly thrives in the projects of building connections with the West. Special emphasis was placed on Sweden’s role in the alleged neo-colonial policy against the Baltic states,’ explains Mr Kazlauskas.

It is important that in February pro-Kremlin media continued with the hitherto popular narratives, which mostly focus on economically unreasonable position of Lithuania and other Baltic states on the BelNPP, Lithuania’s interference in Belarus’ internal affairs, accusations of sowing panic, and the scarcity of political unity among the Baltic states.

Narratives and messages (sub-narratives) by mentions, DebunkEU data

According to the data collected by DebunkEU.org and LMFA, compared to January, several new messages appeared: 1) allegedly the real culprit that stands behind the Lithuanian effort to harm the BelNPP is the US; 2) in case of emergency, Vilnius will not be able to evacuate due to the incompetence and helplessness of the Lithuanian authorities.

Narratives and subnarratives by reach, DebunkEU data

Throughout February 2021, malign information against the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP accounted for 304 (41.1% out of examined 739 that were related to the BelNPP). This shows a substantial increase in comparison to the statistics of December (127, i.e. 29.9% out of examined 425).

Distribution by types of information, DebunkEU data

Out of 304 articles identified with false and misleading content, 80% were written in Russian and 20% in Lithuanian (84.3% and 15.7% in January respectively).

Sputniknews.ru, sputniknews.lt and rubaltic.ru published the biggest share of articles containing a malign message about the Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (15.5%, 10.5% and 6.9% share of all articles respectively).

Lenta.ru, rbc.ru and ria.ru shared more than 44% of total contact reach of articles in February containing disinformative message about Lithuanian position on the BelNPP (19.1%, 13.3% and 12.1% of all articles respectively).

The birth of Debunk EU was a direct response to coordinated, mostly Kremlin sponsored, disinformation and propaganda efforts in the Baltic states.