We rarely see such a swift and aggressive reaction to a single video. But the Russian communication outburst to a recent eight-minute movie on YouTube was as immediate as it was foul-mouthed.
The trigger was a NATO video about the so-called “Forest Brothers” – irregular units in the three Baltic states who fought against the Soviet occupying forces during and after World War II. NATO has produced a film commemorating these fighters who are “remembered as national heroes” in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
But Russia’s representatives immediately pulled out their favourite Nazi-card. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s tweet said that the video confirms that “when we face NATO we face the heirs to those of Hitler’s collaborators who survived the war”.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova followed the tone on her Facebook page and described the video as “a perversion of history that NATO knowingly spreads in order to undermine the outcome of the Nuremberg trials”.
When “media” blindly follow the government line
Russian state media immediately understood what was wanted from them and started strengthening, amplifying and even overblowing the narrative. The message that the Forest Brothers were Baltic Nazi collaborators was repeated on all major Russian TV channels: Vesti, Pervyi Kanal, NTV, Rossiya 24 and REN-tv. Russia Today published the same allegation in English.
And Dmitry Kiselyov – the Kremlin’s chief propagandist, head of the state international media agency Rossiya Segodnya, and the only journalist on the EU’s sanctions list – went even further, labelling the Baltic partisans as members of the Waffen-SS, responsible for the deaths of “hundreds of thousands of Jews”.
“You will not rewrite history”
But there was a response. The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, for example, reminded us of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. And Lithuanian social media users flooded the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page with commentaries and the hashtag #Kremlinyouwillnotrewriteourhistory.
— LT MFA STRATCOM (@LT_MFA_Stratcom) 13 июля 2017 г.
Without entering into historical disputes – readers interested in the Forest Brothers can see the links at the bottom of this article – it is safe to say that this incident bears all the hallmarks of one of the most typical disinformation techniques deployed by pro-Kremlin mouthpieces. Taking the well-known concept of the “4 Ds” of disinformation we can see that the story dismisses the fact that the USSR occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; distorts the historical image of the Forest Brothers; distracts from the fact that NATO is a defensive alliance, whose increased presence in the Baltic region is a direct consequence of Russian aggression; and dismays by accusing the adversary of being a Nazi.
As we have written before, “there are only two possibilities in the unique universe of pro-Kremlin media. Either you live in Russia and support the current Russian regime; or if you do not meet these two requirements, you might find yourself called a Nazi.”