In the late afternoon on Tuesday a falsification of e-mail letter from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was delivered to Minister of National Defence of Lithuania falsely informing of a decision to withdraw NATO forces from Lithuania. According to the primary investigation, analogous messages were sent to the Lithuanian media and addresses at the main NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“It is one in a series of attempts to turn the pandemic crisis into a security crisis. Fake news like this piece are aimed at sowing distrust in our Alliance partners and NATO unity,” Minister of National Defence Raimundas Karoblis says.
According to the analysis of the Strategic Communication Department of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, coherent efforts to spread disinformation building on the pandemic, such as the fake news about a U.S. soldier in Lithuania infected with the coronavirus, or the intent of the Ministry of National Defence to continue conducting military exercises, have been monitored for the past several months. 807 cases of misleading information on COVID-19 spread in Russian, English and Lithuanian have been detected since February 1. Most of the cases, almost two thirds, were in Russian. Most often information incidents directly concern the topic of coronavirus mitigation efforts in Lithuania and other EU countries, or indirectly ¬other topics, i.e., the COVID-19 context is employed to spread hostile messages against issues of strategic importance to the Republic of Lithuania. The amount of information incidents targeting NATO has particularly grown lately.
“Alas, the coronavirus crisis has not only not reduced security threats in Europe but created conditions for the threats to grow. We discussed that with both, NATO and EU Defence Ministers, all the member states understand and appreciate the importance of the issue,” R. Karoblis says. “We cannot allow this crisis to undermine long-term defence plans of our countries, therefore cases like this one only demonstrate that we have to continue paying proper attention to strengthening defence, both, conventional and cyber capabilities.”
Analysts of the Lithuanian Armed Forces Strategic Communication Department distinguish several groups of dominant narratives: according to one of them, the purpose of NATO has changed and NATO’s existence now endangers NATO allies. False news are spread about inappropriate behaviour of NATO troops in public places and protests of Lithuanian citizens against such behaviour. The narrative also claims that NATO finances nuclear weaponry instead of fighting COVID-19, which puts European, including Lithuanian, citizens at risk. NATO is also blamed for “anti-Russian” rhetoric.