Earlier this month, pro-Kremlin media websites Rubaltic.ru, Ria.ru, Tass.ru and Sputniknews.lt, referring to each other—a ping-pong manipulation technique—reported on the 16 August radio interview of Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis. The interview focused on the forthcoming Zapad 2017 Russia-Belarus military exercises, scheduled for 14-20 September.
Karoblis, speaking with independent Lithuanian radio station Ziniu radijas, said that Lithuanian and NATO military drills “are being carried out according to an established schedule and no extra exercises are planned.” Rubaltic.ru, a pro-Kremlin, Russian-language website based in Kaliningrad, intentionally rephrased his remark to say that “Lithuania has decided not to run [military] drills to counter Zapad 2017.” This wrongly implied that Lithuania and NATO act aggressively and had planned retaliatory military drills, but then changed their minds. Russian news agency Tass.ru also changed the meaning of his words, stating on its website that “Lithuania does not plan any military exercise as a response to Zapad 2017”—thereby suggesting Lithuania is a hostile country. Sputniknews.lt in Lithuanian interpreted the interview closer to its original version, stating that “Lithuania has expressed its concern about Zapad 2017” and quoting Karoblis as saying that “the military exercise Zapad 2017 as such is not a threat. The major threat is possible mistakes of Zapad 2017 organizers and provocations on the field.” But it left out reporting (a card stacking technique) about cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns which Karoblis had also named as threats.
Not a single pro-Kremlin media outlet quoted that part of the interview (a card stacking technique) in which Karoblis said Zapad 2017 would simulate anti-terrorist operations in case of conflict with a NATO member state, that the exercises contain defensive and offensive elements, or that the Russian army will drill its readiness to open combat action (against the Baltic states) within 24-48 hours. The minister also explained that Lithuania and NATO are concerned about the scope of Zapad 2017, since Russia will conduct its military exercises not only in Belarus, but also in Kaliningrad—the most militarized region in Europe. Russian land and sea drills also will take place from the Barents Sea (the northern coasts of Russia and Norway) south to the Black Sea. In all, more than 100,000 Russian troops will participate in the maneuvers.
Which part of the Karoblis interview the pro-Kremlin outlets emphasize depends on the target group. Kremlin outlets in Russian address primarily Russian-speaking audiences, meaning readers could hardly check and compare the minister’s original interview in Lithuanian. Russian audiences therefore see only a manipulated interpretation of the message in order to support the Kremlin’s crafted image of Lithuania and NATO as aggressors. Also, the Russian public may be more responsive to anti-Western rhetoric. Since Sputniknews.lt writes primarily for Lithuanian readers, the website must report closer to the original interview if it wants to be trusted and be more persuasive. In general, the anti-West rhetoric of pro-Kremlin outlets in Russian sounds more radical than do their Lithuanian-language counterparts.
Selectively quoting from the interview—regardless of how pro-Kremlin media in Lithuanian and Russian spin it—advances the Kremlin’s core narrative: that Russia is besieged by enemies, Lithuania and its NATO allies are aggressors, and Russia does not deserve to be treated with suspicion. It’s clear that pro-Kremlin media outlets prefer to argue with Western views instead of adhering to responsible, well-documented principles of journalism and examining why Western governments and their citizens react as they do to Russia’s actions abroad.