When Rimvydas Valatka signed as much as a brand new cable TV package deal not too long ago he was shocked to see — alongside the same old information, sports activities and sitcoms — no less than six stations that broadcast in Russian.
Across the identical time, Valatka, an analyst and a signatory of the act that secured Lithuania’s independence in 1991, made one other statement.
Russia In the present day (RT), Moscow’s now-ubiquitous tv community, has a budget of around $275 million (€234m) a year, slightly beneath a third of Lithuania’s entire defence budget for 2019.
That quantities to a variety of muscle for the Kremlin in Lithuania, a rustic that was beneath Soviet rule till 1991. Lithuania’s government officially banned RT in September 2020, but it surely’s not been efficient, Valatka mentioned.
“Though [RT] has been banned by Lithuania for the dissemination of propaganda and enmity, it’s nonetheless omnipresent on the cable TV channels and on the web,” he advised Euronews.
Based on Lithuania’s State Safety Division (VSD), RT is only one of plenty of smooth energy weapons that Moscow makes use of to get its narrative throughout within the Baltic state. Extra broadly, the media is a first-rate vessel for selling Russia’s language, tradition and historical past in Lithuania.
Since Lithuania gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Baltic state has embraced Europe, becoming a member of the European Union and the NATO alliance in 2004. In 2015, it joined the euro forex, the final of the Baltic states to take action after Estonia, in 2011 and Latvia, in 2014.
However regardless of the nation’s fractious historical past with Russia, which forcibly absorbed it within the wake of World Warfare II, there are forces inside Lithuania who need to see it foster its ties with Moscow, usually on the expense of its relationship with the European Union.
There stay no less than two Russia-friendly events in Lithuania, the Electoral Motion of Poles (LRA) – made up from Lithuanians who’re ethnic Poles – and the Russian Alliance. There are additionally particular person MPs within the Lithuanian parliament who’re Russian-friendly.
This division has been uncovered most not too long ago over occasions in Belarus, with which Lithuania shares a border.
Lithuania was the primary European state to sentence the elections that noticed Russia-backed President Alexander Lukashenko re-elected on August 9 within the face of vote-rigging and violence towards opposition figures.
Whereas largely well-received in Lithuania, the stance of Vilnius to Belarus angered the LRA’s Zbigniew Jedziński, who mentioned that the Belarussian safety forces that cracked down on protesters on the streets of Minsk and different cities have been “defending [the country’s] structure.”
Valdemar Tomashevski, LRA chairman and MEP, has additionally criticised Lithuania’s leaders for its help of the Belarussian opposition. “Belarus has chosen revolution, not evolution,” Tomashevski mentioned.
This pro-Belarus — and, by it, pro-Russian — line has discovered itself amplified by the Russian dominated media, mentioned Arvydas Anusauskas, a Lithuanian parliamentarian and a member of the Lithuanian Parliament Committee of Safety and Nationwide Defence (NSGK).
He additionally blames a motley crew of pro-Russian organisation working in Lithuania beneath the umbrella of the Russian Embassy in Lithuania.
“All of them dutifully help the historic narrative being foisted by the Kremlin: that it’s Russia that has liberated everyone, and the views reflecting all the foremost occasions on the earth — be it the clampdown on the Belarusian opposition, the struggle in Ukraine or any occasion in any nation worldwide — come beneath the Russian affect,” Anusauskas mentioned.
He added that pro-Russian sentiment — no less than in Lithuanian politics — has tapered off for the reason that struggle in Ukraine, which noticed Moscow annex the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.
“In its wake, many Lithuanian municipalities that had cherished their ties with Russian administrative models severed them and/or reassessed them,” Anusauskas mentioned.
It’s little shock, then, that since 2014 Russian affect in Lithuania has taken the type of so-called “smooth energy” reasonably than an try to actively intrude in politics within the nation. In addition to the expansion of Russian-language media, the battle for affect between east and west has not too long ago manifested itself in basketball in a spat over whether or not Baltic groups ought to participate in Russia’s skilled basketball league, the VTB.
One of many 13 groups participating within the 2020-21 season is Kalev, from Estonia, and Lithuania’s major membership, Zalgiris, additionally not too long ago mulled becoming a member of the Russian league.
“Had the membership accepted the provide it could have grow to be, maybe unbeknownst to it itself, a part of the Russia propaganda machine,” contemplated Valatka.
Russia additionally stays certainly one of Lithuania’s key export companions, in accordance with information from Statistics Lithuania, launched in September. Within the first half of 2020, Russia was chargeable for 13.6% of Lithuania’s exports — the biggest of some other nation — and 9.6% of imports.
Given such hyperlinks, Russian smooth energy in a smaller nation like Lithuania is maybe to be anticipated, mentioned Gediminas Grina, former director of Lithuania’s State Safety Division.
“Each politics and tradition, in addition to sports activities, media and leisure actions serve the aim and are enmeshed endlessly. Talking of Russia, it’s hardly an exception by way of influencing smaller neighbours on the borders. Nonetheless, some international locations are hostile and a few should not.”
As Lithuania is a democratic nation, he mentioned, it’s exhausting to root out manifestations of soppy energy.
“Look, with any constraint being enforced, we are going to begin listening to it constitutes a breach of human rights. That is how the democratic world is. And, frankly, strolling the road is a really delicate matter,” Grina mentioned.
“On the finish of the day all the pieces boils right down to the consciousness of the person – how she or he perceives issues and, sure, threats to our nationwide safety,” he added.
The case of Baltic groups becoming a member of Russia’s basketball league is a basic instance: Doing so could also be a smooth energy win for Moscow, however on the identical time it’s a enormous monetary boon to the golf equipment.
“In pure phrases of sports activities, our golf equipment can profit,” he mentioned.
For Valatka, combatting smooth energy of any type in Lithuania is a long run mission, and the one solution to win it’s by a long-term technique. He has seen loads of examples of outstanding scientists, lecturers, legislation enforcement figures and others taking the Moscow line on social media, usually with out realising what they’re doing.
“The one weaponry we have now within the combat is mental – elevating free, conscientious, critically-minded and financially-free residents.”