Staunton, December 4 – Moscow is waging a highly effective information war in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with its Russia Today television broadcasts in their national languages, a war that the West must respond with its own efforts, according to Elina Lange-Ionatamishvili, a NATO specialist on counter-propaganda.
In an interview with Tallinn’s Eesti Paevaleht, Lange-Ionatamishvili says “the countries of the West are lagging behind Russia in this information because of the lack of a single narrative.”
Lange, who works in Riga at the NATO Center for Strategic Communications, says that Russia Today’s expanded use of national languages means that its audience is larger and more inclined to trust the information it receives than when people have to get their news from a source in another language.
Moreover, she points out, using those languages has an additional benefit from Moscow’s point of view: it allows its broadcasters “to conceal the source standing behind them” and that too increases the impact of such television broadcasting.
Russia Today has no problem in hiring the staff necessary to do this, Lange continues. Moreover, its leaders use a variety of “very clever” methods, including finding people who are already well-known to their audience and who may not support the Kremlin in everything but who like its policies in one area such as opposition to homosexual rights.
And, the NATO counter-propaganda expert says, Russia Today is not above using “invented experts who do not exist or who are not those which [the Moscow service] advertises them as being.” That too often works to the station’s advantage in influencing opinion in the three Baltic countries and elsewhere.
But Russia Today enjoys several additional advantages. On the one hand, the domestic media systems in the Baltic countries, Georgia and Ukraine are in trouble. They have low ratings and thus do not attract the audience they might. For these countries, dealing with media issues is only one problem among many, not the key one as it is for Moscow.
And on the other, Lange says, Russia Today delivers a clearly defined narrative, one that has an impact over time because it presents all events from a single perspective and for a single purpose. During the Cold War, that was to some extent true of international broadcasting by the West to the Soviet bloc, but it no longer is.
Others who have looked at the media environment in the Baltic countries echo her words. This week, for example, the Baltic News Network reported that Moscow is funding internet trolls to promote Russia’s views and undermine the Latvian government.
The news service reports on the basis of a study by Novaya Gazeta that these trolls are given “daily topics on which to project the Kremlin viewpoint by writing blog posts, voting in online polls and posting misleading pictures on social media.” Again, despite occasional Russian complaints, the West is doing nothing similar.