Lithuania: Russia is trying to create a false history that denies the Baltic states’ right to exist, with alarming parallels to its justifications for the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, top Lithuanian officials have said.
The country’s defence minister and officials from the army’s department of strategic communication have told the Guardian that they are taking very seriously the threat of disinformation campaigns orchestrated by Moscow that aim to destabilise the region.
“Russia is a threat,” the defence minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said. “They are saying our capital Vilnius should not belong to Lithuania because between the first and second world wars it was occupied by Poland. It’s history of course, but Russia is using this pretext.
“Sometimes [the disinformation] is through [the government-run news agency] Sputnik, sometimes through their TV, but usually from politicians in the Duma.
“There are now reports that Klaipėda [Lithuania’s third largest city] never belonged to Lithuania; that it was the gift of Stalin after the second world war. There are real parallels with Crimea’s annexation [from Ukraine] … We are speaking of a danger to the territorial integrity of Lithuania.”
Lithuania fears the campaign to rewrite history could be an effort to prepare the ground for a possible attack with conventional weapons – what the military calls “kinetic operations”.
“Some of my colleagues from Ukraine told me there was a 12-year period of latent information operations, non-kinetic,” Ceponis said. “Then after, when conditions were set, they turned to kinetic operation.
“What is really a threat for us, is that we see they are working on a similar narrative for Lithuania, and they have been working on it for many years.”
The issue of how national history is interpreted is potentially a question of national survival for Lithuania, whose status has shifted over several centuries from a major regional power to a territory of another nation, to an independent but small and vulnerable state.
Ceponis said the Russians spent a lot of time and energy putting together a narrative in Crimea that incorporated a revival of the Tsarist-era term “Novorossia” or “New Russia”, to describe parts of eastern Ukraine. The term was embraced by Putin when he asserted Moscow’s right to use force there in 2014, but had first appeared nearly a decade earlier.
“In 2003, when they first talked about Novorossia, no one even cared about these comments, but now we can trace history back and see these articles,” Ceponis said.
The Lithuanian military says similar campaigns have been traced on TV and social media that question the existence of a separate Lithuanian state, lay claim to part of its territory, or bolster the idea that the country is oppressing ethnic Russians.
The former deputy chairman of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, Vladimir Zhirinovsky is among those who have challenged Lithuania’s right to exist.
“According to him the eastern part of Lithuania where our capital is should be connected to Belorussia, and the western part should be connected to Russia,” Ceponis said.