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Dissecting a Case of Baltic Fake News

A Re:Baltica investigation has traced the latest propaganda mouthpiece to colorful, Kremlin-funded characters. 

18 April 2017

The Baltics will no longer receive funding from the United States – or will they? Not anymore, according to rubaltic.ru, a Russian-language news site and, say critics, part of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine. That story, published in March, was picked up by dozens of other Russian-language websites, misleading readers about Washington’s intentions to stop offering assistance to the region.

 

The accuracy of the article, along with the true colors of rubaltic.ru, were revealed by an investigation by Re:Baltica, a non-profit investigative journalism center based in Riga. To start with, the main source of the information was an English-language article published by Fox Business, which spoke about proposed cuts in foreign aid but was short on specifics, let alone naming the countries to be affected.

 

Filtered through the rubaltic lens, that information turned into “Washington has said the Baltic states and other parasites, who are used to living off of U.S. State Department grants, won’t get a damn thing.”

 

That is inaccurate, Re:Baltica writes, given that the countries only receive small grants through U.S. embassy programs, and haven’t received any money from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) since 2004, when they became EU members.

 

“Rubaltic.ru operates as an aggressive Baltic irritant and a producer of biased content to influence and misinform the less educated Russian-speaking residents of the Baltic states,” says Andis Kudors, a director of the Latvia-based Center for East European Policy Studies, as quoted by Re:Baltica.


With a virtual newsroom, and unclear sources of funding, the site includes contributions from Andrey Starikov, who is linked to the Kremlin-funded Center of European Studies. Another contributor, Andrey Solopenko, while working for the Russian government-funded journal Baltiysky Mir, was banned in the past from covering an EU summit on the Eastern Partnership in Riga. Yet another person affiliated with the NGO running rubaltic.ru, and the journalism courses it organizes, Mateusz Piskorski, has been in jail since 2016 on suspicion of espionage.

 

Fake news has found a way of infiltrating even bona fide news sites in the Baltics. Last week, an article alleging mustard-gas poisoning among U.S. troops in Latvia found its way on to the website of the Baltic News Service (BNS), which BNS assistant director for content Vaidotas Beniusis dubbed “an obvious provocation” and a suspected cyberattack, according to The Baltic Times.

 

 

  • Earlier this month, Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis spoke “of a danger to the territorial integrity of Lithuania” brought by Russia’s reinterpretation of Baltic history. “There are now reports that Klaipeda [Lithuania’s third largest city] never belonged to Lithuania; that it was the gift of Stalin after WWII. There are real parallels with Crimea’s annexation [from Ukraine] … We are speaking of a danger to the territorial integrity of Lithuania,” Karoblis said, according to The Guardian.

 

  • Also in March, news agencies in Estonia and Latvia decided to cease their cooperation with the Baltic branches of the Russian government-controlled Sputnik news agency. 

 

  • Re:Baltica is an investigative journalism project focusing “on in-depth investigations of socially important issues in the Baltic region, such as corruption, crime, finances, entrepreneurship, health, and human rights.”

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu

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