News2020.02.12 13:08

Russian troll farm offspring picks Lithuanian soldiers for propaganda

Benas Gerdžiūnas, 2020.02.12 13:08

RIA FAN, a Russian news agency linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin behind the troll farm in St Petersburg, republished a story by LRT English. After changing the angle, the Russian translation is now being shared across Slovak disinformation groups on Facebook.

The story of missing Lithuanian reconnaissance soldiers that evaded all forces sent to find them was translated into Russian, where the Lithuanian troops were referred to as a “NATO unit” to coincide with the broader anti-NATO posture of Kremlin’s propaganda.

Read more: Bots on the Ground: Half of Russian tweets on NATO in Baltics and Poland come from bot-networks

The story was then shared across Slovak Facebook pages, such as “Join in for the resignation, the resignation of [Slovakia’s former] President Andrei Kiska,” and “I do not trust ex-President Kiska or [Slovakian] President Čaputová”.

Russian propaganda has been targeting Slovakia since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, “believing [it] is the only Visegrád country that may leave NATO,” according to a 2017 report by the Slovak daily Dennik N.

Some 60 percent of people in Slovakia had favourable opinion of Russia, the second highest figure in the EU behind Bulgaria, according to the latest Pew Research report.

“Slovak political representation at the highest level is in a state of denial concerning Russian disinformation and influence operations, with the exception of [former] President Andrej Kiska,” according to Kremlin Watch at the European Values Center for Security Policy NGO in the Czech Republic.

Kiska’s name appears in the disinformation groups on Facebook where the RIA FAN translation of LRT English report was shared.

"It's great that the Russian propaganda has finally understood that Lithuanian foces are also NATO forces," Živilė Didžgalvienė from the Lithuanian Military Strategic Communications told LRT English in a written comment.

"However, it's likely that Russian propaganda uses the term 'NATO' in their fear-mongering campaign," she said, adding that "the aim of these attacks is to belittle and discredit NATO forces [by saying] they are causing a threat to the Baltic states' societies," she said.

"NATO forces in the Baltic states became a target for disinformation and propaganda during the NATO summit in Warsaw in July 2016," when the Alliance decided to deploy multinational battalions in Poland and the Baltic states to deter Russia, she added.

Russian news outlet RBC revealed that RIA FAN is an offspring project of the famous St Petersburg ‘troll factory’, according to EUvsDisinfo fact-checking project in Brussels.

“RIA FAN shared its first address with the trolls before moving into its separate premises; however, according to RBC, the owner remained the same, namely Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is currently criminally charged in the United States for his participation in a conspiracy to ‘sow discord in the US political system’, including the 2016 presidential election,” according to EUvsDisinfo.

Read more: More fake news target NATO’s presence in Lithuania

The translated story published on RIA FAN included additional information on NATO's “embarrassment” in neighbouring Latvia where soldiers were lured to give out information on Tinder and also included hyperlinks to other alleged NATO blunders.

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme