Russia has perfected the concept of ‘Hybrid Warfare’ best seen in its move into Ukraine and Crimea in 2014. A major component of the Russian approach involves the extensive use of influence operation via propaganda, disinformation, and the media. Since 2014 Russian media efforts in the former Soviet republics in the Baltics, have become more subtle. Lithuania is a case in point.
Since the war in Ukraine, pro-Russian sentiment — at least in Lithuanian politics — has decreased.
So, in an apparent attempt to continue softening up the small country, without being too overt, Russian leader Vladimir Putin is now employing a ‘soft power’ version of influence operations against countries such as Lithuania and Estonia.
In Lithuania at least six stations in a common cable TV service broadcast in Russian. Russia Today (RT) – Moscow’s primary propaganda venue is one of them.
Euronews reports that:
According to Lithuania’s State Security Department (VSD), RT is just one of a number of soft power weapons that Moscow uses to get its narrative across in the Baltic state. More broadly, the media is a prime vessel for promoting Russia’s language, culture and history in Lithuania.
To understand the power and impact of RT on a small country like Lithuania, one must simply understand that according to Euronews, RT has an estimated budget of around $275 million (€234m) a year, which is only slightly less than a third of Lithuania’s entire defense budget for 2019.
The immediate impact of Russian influence operations can be seen with regard to neighboring Belarus – currently embroiled in its own hybrid war with Russia. In Lithuania, notes Arvydas Anusauskas, a Lithuanian parliamentarian and a member of the Lithuanian Parliament Committee of Security and National Defence (NSGK), the Russian media promotes a “pro-Belarus — and, through it, pro-Russian — line has found itself amplified through the Russian dominated media.”
Anusauskas, according to Eurnonews, also points to a “motley crew of pro-Russian organizations operating in Lithuania under the umbrella of the Russian Embassy in Lithuania,” that conspires to promote the Russian line. He adds:
All of them dutifully support the historic narrative being foisted by the Kremlin: that it is Russia that has liberated everybody, and the views reflecting all the major events in the world — be it the clampdown on the Belarusian opposition, the war in Ukraine or any event in any country worldwide — come under the Russian influence.
What can these small, democratic countries do to defend themselves against Russian influence operations? Rimvydas Valatka, an analyst and a signatory of the act that secured Lithuania’s independence in 1991, told Euronews that, “Although [RT] has been banned by Lithuania for the dissemination of propaganda and enmity, it is still omnipresent on the cable TV channels and on the internet.”
He has also seen prominent scientists, teachers, law enforcement figures, and others, taking the Moscow line on social media, often without realizing what they are doing, stated Euronews, adding that, “for Valatka, combatting soft power of any form in Lithuania is a long term project, and the only way to win it is through a long-term strategy.”
“The only weaponry we have in the fight is intellectual,” said Valatka, “raising free, conscientious, critically-minded and financially-free citizens.”