Deception - the Case of latvia

A series of articles by the Centre for Eastern European Studies

CEEPS: Deception – The Case of Latvia

Centre for Eastern European Policy Studies

In 2008 Jumava publishing house published a book by Jukka Rislakki “Deception: The Case of Latvia”, which highlighted many misconceptions about Latvia spread by official Russia. It is noteworthy that nine years have passed, but the Russian campaigns of lies against Latvia have not diminished, but rather become more refined and aggressive. Unlike 2008, Russia’s disinformation and propaganda activities have occurred not only in Russia’s neighboring countries, but also in Western Europe and the United States.

At the background of many Western leaders, French President Emanuel Macrone has been particularly commendable, who, during his meeting with Vladimir Putin, put it in real terms: “I have always had wonderful relationships with foreign journalists, provided they are indeed journalists. When news organizations distribute defamatory information, they are no longer journalists, but agents of influence. During this presidential campaign, Russia Today and Sputnik have been such influencers who periodically spread lies about me and my campaign. (..) We’ll be telling the truth: Russia Today and Sputnik did not act as professional press and journalists, they simply acted as agents of influence, propaganda and lies.” Thus, the French president described RT and Sputnik at a press conference in the presence of Vladimir Putin on May 29, 2017, commenting on the denial of accreditation to those Russian ‘media’ in his election headquarters.

Today’s Internet environment is saturated not only with lies and fake news , but also with aggressive provocative and troll activity that can be seen in the comment sections of news. We can see both on television and on the Internet more and more ‘journalists’ who are not really into journalism. Journalistic ethics is an unfamiliar concept to them.

It is not just Mr Macron who has fallen victim to the defamation campaign in such ‘media’. For a number of years, defamation has been directed against the Latvian state, its society, independence and values on a large scale. Given the scale, coordination and content of the defamation and trolling campaigns against Latvia, it is reasonable to assume that such activities are not accidental or simply a consequence of journalist incompetence (albeit in some cases creating a breeding ground for deception), but are directed against our country and society.

It is important to distinguish between criticism and slander. Criticism of governments’ actions and policies is a normal occurrence and a welcome activity in democratic countries, and that is why guaranteeing freedom of expression is an integral part of any modern democracy. At the same time, criticism must meet certain criteria – it must be constructive and fact-based, focused on the discovery of real flaws and injustices, thus leading to a healthy debate on issues of public concern. By contrast, examples of deception demonstrated below, are completely different from criticism in its classical sense. The campaign of lies, the cultivation of false facts and ideas in certain ‘media’ and web portals is aimed at dividing Latvian society, inciting hatred and aggression, undermining the credibility of the state and its institutions.

The purpose of this monthly section is: 1) to demonstrate to readers in Latvia what messages are used to deceive the public in Latvia and abroad; 2) to indicate what deception methods are used to influence social and political processes in Latvia; 3) to increase the critical thinking abilities of the Latvian people and thus reduce the impact of the activities of the deceivers in Russia (and also in Latvia).

Deception: the case of Latvia. No. 1 (June 2017)

Deception: On March 4, 2017, an article published by RUBALTIC.RU, entitled “EU recognizes Baltic economies as uncompetitive”, states that the European Union places the three Baltic states, as usual, at the bottom of the European competitiveness index. It is emphasized that the level of development of the Baltic States does not match that of the rest of Europe – the Baltic States are still lagging behind the EU average. At the end of the article, the author additionally mentions a Eurostat study on the demographic situation in Europe, which mentions that Latvia’s population will decline by 31% in the coming decades and concludes that the Baltic States are not competitive – they have no future and no prospects. The Baltic States have lost their competition in the global world, and are completely and irreversibly affected.1

Refutation: RUBALTIC.RU referred in its article to the study “The EU Regional Competitiveness Index 2016”.2 Latvia indeed ranks 191st out of 263 European regions and is still below the EU average, however, the article does not mention that Latvia has improved its performance in the competitiveness rating, which is indicated in the study. The author of the article, consciously or unknowingly, draws conclusions based on a logical error. Further explanation is needed here. The Regional Competitiveness Index shows the region’s ability to provide an attractive and sustainable environment for businesses and citizens to live and work. The study shows that the Baltic States are less competitive than, for example, regions of Germany. The author concludes that the Baltic States are either uncompetitive in nature or uncompetitive at global level.

Speaking of indices, if one looks at other global index reports, it can be concluded that Latvia’s indicators are quite far from catastrophic. Latvia ranks 46th in the global competition index (not to be confused with the EU regional competition index).3 Latvia ranks 14th in the Doing Business ranking (6th among EU countries).4 Latvia ranks 25th on the Forbes list of the best countries for business.5 The claim that there is no levelling of development between the Baltic States and the rest of Europe is a blatant lie. An example is Latvia’s GDP per capita in relation to the EU average. When the country joined the EU in 2004, it was around 46.5% of the EU average6, compared to 66% in 20157.

In such and similar articles, Latvia is usually portrayed as a failed state , permanently doomed to collapse. The comparisons are made in such a way that Latvia (or the Baltic States) always looks significantly worse, for example, against the EU or other Western countries, which for objective reasons outperform Latvia in the above-mentioned indicators. But any achievements of Latvia are always ignored.

Deception: Another news about Latvia’s economic difficulties was published on March 12, 2017 in the article “The Baltics have tightened their belts – prices for products have reached their maximum” on the portal of Ekonomicheskoye Obozreniye . The article claims that as a result of Russia’s counter sanctions (product embargoes), food prices have risen by up to 30%. After losing the Russian market, Latvian farmers decided to raise prices in the domestic market to cover their losses.

Refutation: Reading this article gives the impression that Russia is the only country to which Latvian food, agricultural and fishery products are exported, and Russia’s counter-sanctions have completely destroyed Latvia’s most significant industry. The exaggeration of the impact of Russia’s counter-sanctions on the Latvian economy is one of the most common deception topics at the moment. According to Eurostat data, export of Latvian food, agricultural and fishery products in 2016, compared to 2015, has increased by €71 million or 3.4%, as the industry finds other markets. And another interesting fact – Russia, despite the introduction of the embargo, remains the most important export destination for Latvian food and agricultural products, accounting for 18% of the total value of food and agricultural exports in 2016.8

Equally incorrect is the claim that commodity prices are rising due to falling demand. According to the Central Statistical Bureau, the price increase for all categories of consumer goods by May 2017 did not exceed 1.7%.9 Moreover, raising food prices by up to 30% in the EU single market would mean that our farmers would not be able to sell anything at all – they would simply not be able to compete with farmers in other EU countries.

Deception: On February 1, 2017, the video “Who is Latvia’s Main Enemy?” posted on Youtube (Peek FM broadcast “For an Independent Latvia”), in which Einars Graudiņš and Alexander Gaponenko explain that during their visit to Riga 4-6 June, In November, Prime Minister Li Keqiang of the People’s Republic of China did not bring Latvia a €7 billion investment offer due to statements by the Security Police (DP). According to Mr Graudiņš and Mr Gaponenko, the DP said a week after Li Keqiang’s visit that he had detained eight public officials who had been spying (leaked information) for the PRC. That is why Li Keqiang (even before DP’s public announcement) resented, failed to give Latvia 7 billion investment and left.10

Refutation: One should begin with Gapoenko constantly calling Chinese President Xi Jinping as the Chinese prime minister, and none of the interlocutors corrects Gapoenko’s mistake, which is already a sign of Gapoenko’s and other interlocutors’ awareness of the situation. The leakage of information to the PRC mentioned by Mr Gaponenko is in fact a reference to a Latvian TV broadcast”Nothing Personal” of November 27, 2016, which talked about the secret connection of Chinese-made phones and data transmission to Chinese servers by government officials. In addition, according to experts of IT security incident prevention agency Cert.lv, the phones have contacted Chinese servers without the knowledge of their owners. Experts at Cert.lv add that Latvia is not the target of Chinese espionage, but devices have come to it without any intent.11

Returning to Li Keqiang, no official or media source (either Latvia, PRC or any other country) mentions that Li Keqiang is bringing a €7 billion investment offer aimed specifically for Latvia; only Gaponenko has such information. First, such an amount seems disproportionate and unlikely, given that China’s direct investment balance in Latvia at the end of 2016 was €76.71 million. Second, the Chinese prime minister in Riga participated in the fifth summit of the Central and Eastern European countries and China (16 + 1), hosted by Latvia and producing positive results: the Riga guidelines were signed for cooperation between China and Central and Eastern Europe12 and 10 billion a large investment fund (planned to be raised to EUR 50 billion) was formally founded to finance projects in sectors such as infrastructure, high technologies and consumer goods13.

Gaponenko describes the Chinese prime minister’s actions as if he had personally attended talks with senior officials of both countries and observed Li Keqiang’s reaction. In reality, there is no information that the summit has ended the diplomatic scandal between China and Latvia. Even a €7 billion investment offer existed, one comment from the DP would not have been able to change China’s long-standing foreign policy strategy in our region. In addition, sources indicate otherwise, the summit was rated as successful14 ; you can find examples on websites of foreign ministries, the China-Central and Eastern Europe Investment Fund and global media on the subject.

Deception: On April 19, 2017, the “Polit Puzzle” portal published an article “Latvia acknowledged that it wants to cooperate with the Russian Federation, because without Russia it will not be able to survive”, informing about the statement by the State Secretary of the Ministry of Transport Kaspars Ozoliņš at the 22nd plenary session of the conference TransRussia 2017, were he stressed that Russia was an important partner for Latvia in the field of transit and logistics. The author makes also his own comments saying that “Latvians have recognized that without Russia it is difficult” and “it is Russia that helps Latvia to develop in many vital sectors”, “Latvia suffers heavy financial losses as a result of Russian counter-sanctions”.15

Refutation: The main claims concern additional comments made by the author of the article. State Secretary Ozoliņš mentions that Latvia as a logistics hub is interesting for several partners in Europe (including Russia) and Asia. In his turn, Minister Uldis Augulis noted that transport between Europe and Asia has great prospects and state enterprises of both countries (Latvia and Russia) are cooperating well in the field of railway transport. Here the statements of Latvian officials should be separated from the fabrications of the author of the article.

In addition, the Latvian side has never stated that it does not want to cooperate with Russia. An active economic cooperation has always existed between the two countries. On the other hand, when it comes to financial losses or the effect of Russia’s counter-sanctions, it is not very clear what the author meant by that. Russia implements the food embargo with no direct financial implications. The author of the article tries to exaggerate (depict as catastrophic for Latvia) the effect of Russia’s counter-sanctions for political reasons. In addition, the databases of the Latvian authorities (the Central Statistical Bureau, the Bank of Latvia, ministries, etc.) are not referred to and unsubstantiated statements are made. Overall, however, it can be concluded that there is a need for an extensive independent study of the impact of sanctions on the Latvian economy, which could separate reality from myths roaming the Internet and the media.

Deception: An article in the webportal Vesti.lv “Women from Latvia fight in Ukraine” claims that the intelligence service of the [so called] Luhansk People’s Republic has revealed that female snipers, mainly from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, are fighting on the Ukrainian side.16

Refutation: This article basically refers to a roaming myth (already a joke) in Russia since the time of the Transnistrian and Chechen conflicts about a Baltic sniper unit called White Tights. It is an ideological cliché that has no actual evidence but is repeatedly mentioned in the context of various conflicts in the CIS. It is not entirely clear why an article of this nature appears on a portal seeking to play the role of a news portal. In addition, attention must be drawn to the amount of homogeneous commentary in the comments in this article, raising suspicion about organized activity of trolls who are trying to convey some serious features to an absurdity. Additional comments are superfluous.

By Arnis Latišenko, researcher at the CEEPS.

1 http://www.rubaltic.ru/article/ekonomika-i-biznes/03032017-es-priznal-chto-pribaltika-nekonkontentosposobna/

2 http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/docgener/work/ 201701_regional_competitiveness2016.pdf

3 http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GCR2016-2017/05FullReport/TheGlobalCompetitivenessReport2016-2017_FINAL.pdf

4 http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB17-Report.pdf

5 https://www.forbes.com/best-countries-for-business/list/#tab:overall

6 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/english/resource/static/files/publications/english-es-10-gadi_petijums.pdf

7 http://www.mfa.gov.lv/arpolytics/european-communication-communication-information-research-gains-from-latvia-participation-european-communication#1

8 https://www.zm.gov.lv/public/ck/files/Reviews%20par%20LV%20arejo%20tributing%202016.pdf

9 http://www.csb.gov.lv/statistics-topic/paterina-prices-datubaze-30155.html

10 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8o-CXpZJSQ

11 http://www.irlv.lv/2016/11/27/state-iestazu-workers-talruni-slepus-sutijusi-datus-uz-serveriem-kina

12 http://china-ceefund.com/Template/news_list_12_12.html

13 http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/chinas_investment_in_influence _the_future_of_161_cooperation7204

[14] http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/topics_665678/lkqfwjejssthskstltwyelsbcxxlgjhy/t1413727.shtml

[15] https://politpuzzle.ru/61350-latviya-priznalas-hochet-sotrudnichat-s-rf-dalshe-ved-bez-rossii-ej-nikak/

[16] http://vesti.lv/news/na-ukraine-voyut-zhenshtiny-iz-latvii