Debunk EU: election fraud in Belarus brought a surge of pro-Kremlin propaganda

The events in Belarus, where people are protesting after the implicit falsification of the results of presidential election, were topical in the media agenda-setting in August. Therefore, it is not surprising that the pro-Kremlin propaganda actively used this topic too. In its own narratives about Belarus, it reserved special places for the Baltic states (especially for Lithuania). The Baltic states, together with other regional countries, were presented as the provokers of the protests.

The pro-active position of the Baltic states in the evaluation of the results of Belarusian presidential election, together with their vocal support towards the protesters and oppositional powers, became the target of the pro-Kremlin propaganda in August.

Dynamics of articles, DebunkEU data

The main narrative which was used to form an Anti-Baltic rhetoric involved misleading criticism towards the Baltic states for refusing to accept the results of the presidential election in Belarus, as well as their diplomatic response to the post-election crisis (the sub-narrative of Western interference into internal affairs of Belarus). Another traditional sub-narrative about the Baltic states being the U.S./NATO vassals was visible too and was used by the pro-Kremlin propaganda for interpretation of the events in Belarus.

TOP 5 narratives, DebunkEU data

The second most tracked narrative about the Baltics states in August was the representation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia as “failed states”. This narrative could be evaluated as a traditional one for Kremlin-backed media.

There were some differences in the representation of the role of the Baltic states in the Belarusian events. Latvia and Estonia were often mentioned as part of a united “anti-Belarusian front” in the West. The role of Lithuania in the context of events in Belarus was more pro-active. Lithuanian authorities criticized Minsk’s brutality against protesters, use of physical power against citizens, etc. Vilnius hosted the candidate from the opposition (and, possible, president-elect) Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya after she was forced to leave Belarus. The Lithuanian society had also shown their support for Belarusian protesters. On August 23 the “Freedom Way” human chain was organized in Lithuania, to express solidarity with the Belarusian opposition. This event has a symbolic link to the “Baltic Way” of August 23, 1989, when people in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia formed a human chain from Vilnius to Tallinn as an act of remembrance of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939) and its consequences for the Baltic states. All these aspects draw the attention of Kremlin propaganda. Lithuania, together with Poland, was presented as the “main instigators” and “provocateurs”, seeking to destabilize Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

Moscow also saw the support of protests in Belarus from the side of Lithuanian and other Baltic states not only as an action “against the president of Belarus” but also as an anti-Russian operation. Here the narrative of Poland’s and Lithuania’s wish to drag Belarus into the “Lublin Triangle” (a coalition against Kremlin) should be mentioned as well. In these stories, we could see the traditional disposition of Moscow as “the besieged fortress” in its narratives. Kremlin saw all the processes in the region from a position of geopolitical struggle where the so-called Western World is a clear enemy. The point of the battle is establishing the “spheres of influence”. In such terms, Moscow has interpreted neighborhood countries. It explains why the Kremlin-backed propaganda looks at the support of opposition and protesters in Belarus as an action not (or — not only) against the regime in Minsk but as an action against Kremlin.

TOP10 sources by social interactions, DebunkEU data

The results of monitoring content from pro-Kremlin outlets in August had shown the paranoid Moscow’s fear of the so-called “colour revolutions” happening again. Kremlin believes that Western countries are provoking riots in post-Soviet countries to replace pro-Kremlin leaders with West-loyal powers. The events in Belarus had strengthened Moscow’s fears because Kremlin saw signs of a new “colour revolution” there. The Maidan protests serve as a model for interpretation of such events for the pro-Kremlin propaganda. Here we could talk about the matrix of coverage that propaganda’s outlets use: the protesters are presented as “asocial individuals” (i.e. drug-addicts) or representatives of far-right/left subcultures (i.e. nationalists, anarchists); the initiators of protests are presenting “outside powers” (i.e. foreign countries); every political alternative is portrayed as “non-legitimate” and “illegal”. This is the frame that pro-Kremlin propaganda is using to present any similar event happening in the post-Soviet area (such as civil uprising against the dictatorship or instances of political violence).

TOP 10 sub-narratives, DebunkEU data

The strong positions towards Belarus in Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Germany, the U.S. and other countries are now seen in Moscow as one more piece of evidence that Western countries are behind every “colour revolution” in the region.

On the other hand, the picture of Lithuania or other Baltic states as powers of “colour revolutions” does not compare to propaganda’s representation of the Baltic states as “failed states”. Here Kremlin’s propaganda finds an explanation of the role of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in Belarusian events as “puppets” or “vassals” of the U.S./NATO. In this case, the Baltic states are represented only as “servants” who are doing “all the dirty work”. The U.S. is traditionally presented as the “puppet-master” (in the case of the events in Belarus, the role of the organizer of the “revolution” is also given to Germany).

Disinformation by techniques, DebunkEU data

The portraying of the Baltic states as “vassals” of the West is also linked to the narratives of Kremlin propaganda directly targeting Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. The aim of such narratives is to show the Baltic states as “not independent” countries which have chosen the wrong vector of integration. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are presented as not equal to the traditional West democracies. The idea of kind of narratives is that the geopolitical position of the Baltic countries is worst compared to how it was in the Soviet Union.

During the period of monitoring there were also visible other — traditional — anti-Baltic narratives. For example, in Estonia, the case of a Russian school closing in Kelia was used as an example of discrimination against the Russian speaking population. The pro-Kremlin propaganda likes to accuse the Baltic states of discrimination of Russian-speaking minority. Even though Russian schools are closing in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia due to demographic situation, propaganda’s media captures every case as evidence of human rights violations against the local Russians.

The accusation of “Russophobia”, “anti-Russian position”, “incompetence of the governments of the Baltic states” still are the main topics of the pro-Kremlin propaganda agenda in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. In this context, events in Belarus and their interpretation was integrated into the discourse of traditional Kremlin information warfare against the Baltic states. It allows Kremlin propaganda to create some new narratives (i.e. interference of Lithuania into the local affairs of Belarus) as well as adopt old ones.

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