Lithuania manipulates Ukraine: portrayal of the Gitanas Nauseda and Volodymyr Zelensky meeting

The foreign policy of Lithuania towards Ukraine, accusations of ‘Russophobia’ and issues regarding the BelNPP stood out as the most targeted topics in disinformation concerning the meeting of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Gitanas Nauseda held on 17th — 19th March 2021.

Throughout March 15th — 22nd 2021, Debunk EU detected 55 articles that were identified as disinformation and 2 content pieces as misinformation related to the meeting of the President of Ukraine and the President of Lithuania. The major peak was noticed on 19th March, stimulated by a speech given by Gitanas Nauseda at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. The pro-Kremlin media outlets sputniknews.ru, baltnews.lt, sputniknews.lt and rossaprimavera.ru (also known as “Krasnaya Vesna”) appeared as the main distributors of disinformation.

Mentions of Ukraine and Lithuania, DebunkEU data

Dishonest relations between Lithuania and Ukraine

Disinformation spread throughout the monitored period intended to diminish Lithuanian foreign policy, portraying it as manipulative, selfish, dishonest, and improper towards Ukraine. It was also noticed that misleading information sought to exaggerate Lithuania’s dependency on the U.S., even showing Lithuania as its puppet. This particular narrative plays an important role in the disseminated articles, keeping in mind that Lithuania and Ukraine perceive the U.S. as their main partner.

Messages aimed to create several negative images: Lithuania was shown as an unreliable partner which seeks to implement its geopolitical ambitions, however, has no independence from the U.S. in its foreign affairs. As far as the picture of Ukraine is concerned, it concentrated on the portrayal of the country as a failed state, easily manipulated by other players in the international arena.

Moreover, the Lithuanian President greeting the Ukrainian soldiers on March 18th with a phrase “Glory to Ukraine” became a trigger of disinformation, intending to show that Lithuania supports Nazism in Ukraine. Repetition of this message in several articles is an example of how disinformation can create a negative image by selecting to attack one sentence.

The greeting “Glory to Ukraine” was used by partisan groups fighting against USRS occupation in Ukraine after the World War II — they were portrayed as a hostile nationalist movement during the Soviet times. The greeting was also used at the beginning of the 20th century during the independence fights and is not related to the Nazi regime. “Glory to Ukraine” became a symbol during the “Revolution of Dignity”, thereby pro-Kremlin media aimed to relate the revolution to Nazism or Fascism. Moreover, concepts of Nazism and Fascism were used in Soviet propaganda during the Cold War and are still commonly employed in pro-Kremlin disinformation in order to create a frightful image.

Lithuania is pressuring Ukraine to oppose the BelNPP

Lithuania’s stance on BelNPP appeared as a target in pro-Kremlin Russian and Lithuanian media information flow during the examined period due to concerns about BelNPP expressed by G. Nauseda in his speech.

Misleading information in detected content pieces exaggerated the possible negative consequences to Ukraine after reducing energy dependence from Russia and Belarus and aimed to diminish the importance of the decision to synchronize with European electric power grid. Such messages had two goals: to increase fear and mistrust by creating a tragic scenario of Ukraine after disconnecting from Russian and Belarusian electricity grids, and to present Lithuania as utilising other countries as political tools without consideration of consequences, in order to impair the relationship between Lithuania and Ukraine.

‘Russophobia’ is a trait of irrational foreign policy

During the meeting, additional sanctions on Russia were discussed in response to its aggression. Lithuania has also expressed its support for Ukraine in the ongoing conflict in Donbass, with Mr Nauseda reaffirming that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. All of these talking points were used by disinformation actors. Notably, on March 18th Russia celebrated the seventh anniversary of the “reunification” of Crimea with Russia, which has also led to the increase concerning Ukraine in the Kremlin related media.

The concept of “Russophobia” is used by disinformation actors to highlight the irrationality of anti-Russian policy and unreasonable fear of Russia in the context of Lithuania — Ukraine relations, the narrative ‘Country/Organization is Russophobic’ spread by Russian media sources intends to deny the accusations towards Russia, i.e., annexation of the Crimean Peninsula or supported conflict in Eastern Ukraine, portraying Russia as a victim of ‘Russophobic’ policy conducted by Western countries.

Considering the Crimea annexation, disinformation sought to imply that Lithuania has hostile stances toward Russia and groundlessly accuses Russia of violation of the international law.

Target audiences

Disinformation and misinformation spread by pro-Kremlin and non-systemic Lithuanian media on meeting of Gitanas Nauseda and Volodymyr Zelenskyy has potentially reached around 14 million contacts all around the world. Analysis shows that disinformation potentially was directed to Russian minority in Lithuania, Russian speaking audience in Ukraine as well as to Russian internal audience.

Analysis showed that narratives send opposing messages: they tend to show Lithuania as manipulative, influential international player, seeking to take advantage of Ukraine, on the other hand Lithuania is also portrayed as a politically failed state accusing of conducting irrational and non-profitable anti-Russian policy. Disinformation intended to differ the messages for various audiences, aiming to enhance mistrust of the EU and its member countries among Ukrainian readers, to negatively present Lithuanian government among Russian speaking group in Lithuania and to diminish the importance of the event and Lithuania — Ukraine relations in general in the eyes of internal Russian audience.

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