Fake news about US troops posted on BNS website, cyber-attack suspected
On 12 April, a fake news article about alleged mustard-gas poisoning among US troops in Latvia was posted on the Baltic News Service's website in a suspected cyber-attack. IT specialists are currently trying to find out who posted the fake news. The article, written in the Lithuanian and Russian languages, says that American troops in Latvia were poisoned with mustard gas and that mustard gas lying on the bottom of the Baltic Sea is “an ecological bomb” and “only the Kremlin knows when it will explode”. “The text was written as an obvious provocation. We suspect it was a cyber-attack,” said Vaidotas Beniusis, assistant director for contents at BNS. The BNS data centre in Estonia was targeted by a cyber-attack in January.
BALTICS AND EXERCISE
Over 1,200 troops to take part in Summer Shield XVI multinational military exercise in Latvia
Over 1,200 troops are expected to take part in the Summer Shield XVI multinational military training exercise, which will be held from 17-30 April in Adazi Trainin Area and adjacent territories. The annual drills will gather more than 1,200 soldiers from Latvia, the US, Bulgaria, Estonia, Canada, Lithuania, the UK, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia, Germany, and Sweden, providing the troops with an opportunity to hone their skills in a multinational environment. During this year’s exercise the soldiers will be practicing a broad range of combat support elements: artillery, air-defence, reconnaissance, defence against weapons of mass destruction, support of combat and construction engineers, and anti-tank capabilities. Also involved in the exercise will be joint fire observers and close air support controllers, as well as a medical company and transportation units. The annual Summer Shield exercise has taken place in Latvia since 2014. Originally, its purpose was to prepare soldiers for participation in the coalition forces’ operation in Iraq. Since 2014, this training event is included in the NATO exercises and training list, so it is also open to participation by any member state. Last year’s Summer Shield exercise was held with the participation of more than 1,300 soldiers.
Patience is key in Afghanistan, Lithuanian Defence Minister says after visit
Patience is key in carrying out NATO’s mission in Afghanistan in order to stem the growth of terrorism and the illegal drugs business, Lithuanian Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said after a visit to the Asian country. Twenty-one Lithuanian soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan and they will be joined by eight more in the summer, the Defence Ministry said in a press release on Friday. Among those serving in the headquarters is a group of Lithuanian military police officers performing functions of international military police together with Australian and US police officers, ensuring discipline of troops and preventing criminal deeds and other violations. Lithuanian troops also ensure national support element functions, providing logistical support to Lithuanian troops serving in Afghanistan. Karoblis said after visiting the troops and meeting with local officials that “the situation in Afghanistan is not improving as fast as we would like: Reforms are hampered by unrest in the region and the high level of corruption.” The minister noted, however, that certain stability had been achieved through joint efforts by NATO allies. “This mission is necessary as a guarantee of stability in order to prevent terrorism and the narcotic business from expanding. This is a global concern, and patience is of strategic importance in this struggle,” he said in the press release. Karoblis said that he was proud of the Lithuanian soldiers on the mission in Afghanistan. The commanders of the mission emphasized the Lithuanians’ professionalism and devotion to the service more than once during the meetings, he said. Over 3,000 Lithuanian soldiers have served in Afghanistan since 2002. NATO’s current mission in Afghanistan is a non-combat one. Its aim is to train, advice, and assist the national security forces, ministries, and other authorities in ensuring stability in the country.
About 700 Lithuanian statutory officers attend training to deter “little green men”
On 11 April, nearly 700 Lithuanian border guards, police officers, and public security officers attended a training to deter attacks of the so-called “little green men” near the country’s borders. “There was a simulation of intrusion of about 30 little green men into Lithuania’s territory and their getting off a train,” Minister of Interior of Lithuania, Eimutis Misiunas, said after the training. “Little green men” was a term used to describe Russian troops who assisted annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014. The minister, however, did not confirm that the exercise was intended to deter Russian saboteurs. Chiefs of the police, the State Border Guard Service and the Public Security Services were the only ones notified of the exercise, while ordinary officers and operators of the emergency centre did not know this was a training exercise.
Lithuanian, Dutch defence ministers discuss cases of disinformation against NATO troops
On 10 April, the Lithuanian and Dutch defence ministers and chiefs of defence discussed in Vilnius the security situation in the world and the latest terror attacks and agreed on the need for a smooth implementation of the NATO Warsaw Summit decisions. The issue of disinformation was a major topic during the meeting between Defence Minister, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and Chief of Defence, General Tom Middendorp, of the Netherlands and Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, and Chief of Defence, Lieutenant General Jonas Vytautas Zukas, of Lithuania. Karoblis informed the Dutch defence minister and chief of defence about cases of fake news targeting NATO’s battalion stationed in Lithuania. Karoblis said that Russia continued its active propaganda efforts in Lithuania, but added that the public’s resilience to information attacks was growing and the media was getting involved in deconstructing information attacks. “Obviously, we cannot avoid information attacks and there will be attacks in the future. But we must be ready to counter them,” he said. There have been attempts to spread false information in Lithuania, claiming that German troops deployed in the country raped a girl and that the commander of the German-led battalion is a Russian agent. The Netherlands’ defence minister and chief of defence came to Lithuania to visit Dutch troops serving in the Alliance’s enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battlegroup since this spring.
Latvian Defence Ministry requests EUR 8.9 million pre-financing for NATO battalion
The Latvian Defence Ministry has requested EUR 8.9 million pre-financing for the needs of the Canada-led NATO multi-national battalion expected to arrive in summer. The government will hear the ministry’s request for the pre-financing next week, according to the agenda of the Cabinet of Ministers meeting planned on 18 April. The Defence Ministry explained that the support needs and the support functions related to the stay of the NATO battle group in Latvia, but not falling into category of the host nation support functions, are governed by the Latvia-Canada agreement signed in March 2017. Under the agreement, Latvia will satisfy the above support needs and Canada will pay for the services received within 60 days after the invoice date. The required pre-financing for the support needs of the NATO battle group has been estimated as EUR 8,940,900 that will be repaid during 2017 and 2018. This is the amount needed prior to the arrival of the allied troops but afterwards about EUR 2 million will be required monthly for the purpose and will be repaid by the allies when invoiced. These needs include meals, drinking water, portable toilets and sinks, fuel, and other supplies. The Canada-led battle group of more than 1,000 soldiers will arrive in Latvia in June this year to help strengthen Latvia’s security.
NATO Centre to organize one-day hackathon aimed at detecting fake news
On 13 May, the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence will organize a one day hacking event aimed at coming up with practical methods to detect fake news and biased media online. Fake news and biased media publishing “alternative facts” have become a problem that internet companies and governments are equally concerned about. Facebook, along with Google, has tried to cut off the financial incentives for fake news purveyors by stopping their advertising networks from being used to sell ads on fake news sites, the centre points out. First Draft News, with partners such as Facebook, Twitter, the Washington Post, and BuzzFeed, has launched CrossCheck to combat hoaxes online. Many more civil society projects are already out there, but none of them have solved the problem in its entirety yet. Many of these tools work only with English language and cannot be adopted locally. This is the problem that the NATO Centre of Excellence will seek to solve. The aim of this hackathon is to become a place where technology industry and media’s top thinkers seek new ways to preserve the trustworthiness of online media. The NATO Centre of Excellence invites coders, statisticians, web designers, and journalists to take part in this hackathon. The deadline to apply is April 24.
There are ”fake beliefs” that NATO will solve all of our problems - MEP Mamikins
European Parliament Member, Andrejs Mamikins, who is a member of Harmony, which has a cooperation agreement signed with Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s, United Russia party, believes that there are “fake beliefs” in Latvia that NATO will solve all of the country’s problems. Mamikins was commenting the results of a survey commissioned by Harmony regarding the Russia sanctions and NATO deployments in Latvia. “According to this survey, these are fake beliefs, as many residents do not feel safer because of the arrival of NATO troop,” Mamikins said. According to the survey, Russian speakers in Latvia much more frequently than Latvian speakers stated that they believe the arrival of NATO forces in Latvia will lead to worsening of relations between Russia and Latvia and an increase in the risk of possible conflict. The European Parliament member went on to claim that “people do not believe that the arrival of troops will improve Latvia’s security, and that the EU sanctions against Russia have worked.” He also went on to say that a compromise will surely not be found with Russia in the near future in regards to the Russian occupation and annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.
US sends three Chinook helicopters to Latvia
Three US Chinook transport helicopters arrived at the Lielvarde airbase in central Latvia in week 15. The helicopters have been sent as part of the Atlantic Resolve mission and will participate in military exercises in Latvia and the Baltics. The helicopters will be based in Lielvarde and will be deployed to Latvia for several months, according to the Defence Ministry. The helicopters have been deployed to Latvia to help strengthen the country’s security. The helicopters will participate in their first military exercise later this month during the Summer Shield exercise in Latvia. There are currently five US Blackhawk helicopters based in Lielvarde as well.
Letter from US president to Latvian President Vejonis
On 14 April, it was reported that US President Donald Trump sent a letter to Latvian President, Raimonds Vejonis, saying that the US will remain a steadfast Latvian friend and ally. In the letter Trump thanked Vejonis for his previous letter congratulating him on his election as the US President, the Latvian president's press office said. Trump said that the transatlantic security relations were vital and the US would keep its commitments to NATO as well as bilateral commitments between the US and Latvia. “I appreciate very much the Latvian commitment to spending 2 % of GDP on defence, which creates a good example of burden-sharing between the allies. I also appreciate the Latvian participation in security and anti-terrorism missions in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the US President said. In conclusion of his letter, the US President said: “As a New York Knicks fan, allow me to say how much I appreciate the investment in Latvian basketball star Kristaps Porzingis.”
The 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Latvia and Belarus
On 10 April, the Foreign Ministries of Latvia and Belarus held political consultations, which also marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. The consultations were headed by State Secretary, Andrejs Pildegovičs, for Latvia and by Deputy Foreign Minister, Oleg Kravchenko, for Belarus. The meeting took stock of bilateral cooperation between Latvia and Belarus and reviewed current issues in EU-Belarus relations. The delegations expressed satisfaction at the broad cooperation established between Latvia and Belarus in various fields over the 25 years and the ongoing political dialogue. Andrejs Pildegovičs commended the dialogue launched on security policy and confirmed that the Latvian side was prepared to take it forward. He stressed that the state of affairs in democracy and human rights remain crucial when building the EU-Belarus relations. He called for further strengthening of standards in democracy and human rights, including respect for the freedom of assembly and expression, a moratorium on the death penalty, and an electoral reform. At the meeting, the parties confirmed that cooperation in the Eastern Partnership format should continue, this being an instrument for security, resilience, and modernisation in the partner countries.
US congressmen voice strong support for Latvia’s security
On 9 April, Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkevics, met with the US Congressional Delegation led by Congressman, Bill Shuster, to share views on transatlantic relations, the strategic partnership between Latvia and the US in security and defence, and cooperation on transport and energy. Rinkevics stressed the importance of US forward presence in the Baltic Sea region and confirmed Latvia’s preparedness to invest in defence, where the defence spending will reach the 2 % of GDP target by 2018. US Congressmen offered unflagging political support for Latvia’s security. Latvia can continue to count on support from the US Congress. The Congressmen also thanked Latvia for its solidarity and assistance given in the fight against international terrorism. The meeting also addressed current developments in the EU and the relationship with Russia. As part of their stay, the US Congressional Delegation also visited the Adazi military base.
Survey: 41 % of Estonian residents think arrival of NATO forces increases risk of war
According to a survey commissioned by the office of MEP Yana Toom, 41 % of the residents of Estonia of all ethnic backgrounds believe that the arrival of the NATO contingent increases the risk of a military conflict between Estonia and Russia. “Poll results show that the population takes a completely different view of the deployment of NATO armed forces to Estonia than many Estonian politicians who have expressed their concern for the security of the state. Most of the respondents believe that this activity will increase the risk of war with Russia or that it does not matter much in the relations between Estonia and Russia. Some respondents may have thought that it is impossible to further damage those relations,” Toom said, speaking of the findings of the survey. “That is a lot. I think that this is a strong signal that something is wrong. We must explain better, communicate what the forces are doing here. I would say that everything needs to be marketed correctly, including the presence of NATO forces here. Even though I personally do not like it.” Businessman and former politician Juri Mois, who also took part in the presentation of the survey, found this outcome to not be a problem. “What other option do we have? The point of very a large majority is that if we didn’t resist at all we would be flattened,” Mois said. “So this is not bad at all. I think that without it, fear of war would be much bigger.” His opinion was seconded by MEP, Indrek Tarand, who said that compared to the number of people afraid of war there are more people who do not see the presence of NATO forces in Estonia as increasing the risk of war. According to the results of the survey, 18 % find the presence of NATO forces in Estonia to be lessening the threat of war and 25 % see it having a neutral effect. Eleven % could not say and five % of the people questioned declined to answer. Compared to other regions of Estonia, there were a lot more people in central Estonia, a total of 56 %, who believe that the arrival of additional NATO forces increases the risk of war with Russia. One in two respondents in the north-eastern region’s biggest city, Narva, and a total of 45 % in the whole of north-eastern Estonia seconded that opinion. “What is interesting is that the volume of pessimists is the same among Estonians and non-Estonians -- 41 %. So these results cannot be regarded as a result of foreign propaganda or lack of information,” Toom said. Pollster SaarPoll interviewed 1,002 people across Estonia aged 15 years and older in February for the survey commissioned by the office of Toom, member of the governing board of the ruling Centre Party. The interviews were carried out both in Estonian and Russian.
PM, Defence Minister: Arrival of allies in Estonia doesn’t raise threat level
Commenting on the outcome of the survey commissioned by the office of Estonian MEP Yana Toom, Prime Minister, Juri Ratas, and Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, said that the presence of allied armed forces in Estonia does not raise the level of threat here. “The defence capability of NATO and Estonia has not been created in order to go to war against someone. It has been created to ensure peace on the soil of the member states. This is so both theoretically and in practice,” Ratas, chairman of the Centre Party, told the government press conference on Thursday. He said there’s very strong support in Estonia for the country to be a peaceful state. “There’s no place for war hysteria in Estonia.” “There is no danger,” Ratas said. “Nobody needs to start digging trenches.” He also said that support for NATO and the EU remains high in Estonia. Ratas added that he has not seen the outcome of the survey commissioned by Toom. Defense Minister Margus Tsahkna said that he has “no wish whatsoever to comment on surveys commissioned by Yana Toom.” The chairman of the junior ruling coalition party Pro Patria and Res Publica Union said he doesn’t consider attempts to cause panic in society to be responsible behaviour. Tsahkna said that in the areas where NATO’s presence is not very evident Russia makes use of the situation, and named Georgia and Eastern Ukraine as examples of this. “NATO deterrence decreases conflict. It is military, but also political deterrence,” the minister said.
Government endorses Estonia-US defence cooperation agreement
On 13 April, The Estonian government gave its nod to a bill to ratify the agreement on defence cooperation between Estonia and the US. The agreement to regulate in more detail the status of members of the US armed forces, their dependents, and contractors of the US armed forces during their stay in Estonia was signed by Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, and US Ambassador to Estonia, James Melville, on 17 January. The agreement needs to be ratified by the parliament because its enactment requires amending the National Defence Act and the Value-Added Tax Act, spokespeople for the government said. The agreement complements the already existing agreement on the status of armed forces between NATO member states (NATO SOFA), spokespeople for the government said. It will reduce the red tape related to the stay of members of the US armed forces and their contractors in Estonia and make available to them certain advantages based on common strategic interest and principles. The document will replace the agreement on the use of land plots and structures of the Estonian defence forces that was concluded in 2015 by means of exchange of notes between the governments of Estonia and the US. The accord will not restrict Estonia’s exclusive right to give permission for the entry of members of the US armed forces, military aircraft, and military vessels into Estonia. It will also regulate the application of Estonian penal law to members of the US armed forces and their dependents. The document determines in greater detail the cases in which the jurisdiction of Estonia as the receiving state and in which cases the jurisdiction of the US as the sending state will apply to members of the US armed forces. The focus of the tax exemptions envisaged under the agreement is primarily on goods and services meant for official use. One of the basic principles in international defence cooperation is that no country must earn money at the expense of the armed forces of the sending state.
Estonian, Polish foreign ministers discuss security situation
On 12 April, the foreign ministers of Estonia and Poland, Sven Mikser and Witold Waszczykowski, met to discuss Estonia-Poland relations, transatlantic cooperation, security, the priorities of the Estonian presidency of the EU Council, and the Eastern Partnership. The Estonian minister said that relations between the two countries are good and Estonia highly appreciates the contribution of Poland to the NATO Baltic air policing mission and participation in ensuring the safety of the wider region. “Estonia and Poland have the same understanding of the current security situation, including the need to increase NATO deterrence capability,” Mikser said. The foreign ministers agreed that transatlantic cooperation is very important for ensuring regional security. In addition, Mikser met with Czech Foreign Minister, Lubomir Zaoralek, to discuss regional security, the Estonian presidency of the EU Council, and the future of the EU. The foreign ministers confirmed good relations between the two countries, emphasising successful defence cooperation in particular.
Estonian Internal Security Service: Kremlin financing propaganda directed against Estonia
On 12 April, Estonia's Internal Security Service (ISS) published its yearbook for 2016. In the yearbook, ISS’s claims that the Kremlin constantly supports and funds people who promote anti-Estonian propaganda narratives at events held by international organizations. “One of the characteristic factors that had a security impact on Estonia and Europe was a deepening contrasting with the West owing to an aggressive Russian foreign policy. In the Kremlin-controlled Russian-language information space, the West is depicted as an enemy, or at least a threat to Russian interests,” the yearbook says. “These interests are no longer clearly and openly defined, but it is effectively a spheres of influence policy attempting to maintain the legacy of the Soviet Union, the grounds for which were worded as early as 1992 in the Karaganov Doctrine,” according to ISS. The yearbook says that, as a more general goal, Moscow is attempting to weaken the unity of the European Union and NATO, question relationships between allies, jeopardize individual societies and make attitudes more positive toward the Kremlin’s activities. “To break relationships between allies and split societies, Moscow uses cyber-attacks, controlled information leaks, disinformation and blatant lies in order to influence public opinion and discredit the democratic election process,” the yearbook says. One method of destabilizing states and causing tensions is to support political extremist forces and, in some cases, assist them by funding their activities. It is enough if at least some of the objectives of such forces, such as opposition to NATO or the European Union, coincide with Russia’s strategic goals to break down or destabilize these alliances of Western countries. NATO’s decision to place battle groups in its eastern member countries to counter Russia’s increasing aggression left its imprint on 2016, being met with an aggressive reaction by the Russian media and politicians and, as usual, reversing the cause and effect and attributing the North Atlantic alliance with bad intentions toward Russia. “Moscow’s stance was also conveyed by a handful of extremists active in Estonia, who organized an anti-NATO picket and a so-called peace march. They did not find much of a following in society, but they met the goal of providing the Kremlin propaganda channels with verbal and photographic material to demonstrate ‘anti-NATO sentiment in Estonia’,” the yearbook says.
President: Security situation calm in Estonia at present
On 10 April, Estonian President, Kersti Kaljulaid, said at a meeting with the National Defence Council that Estonia’s security situation is calm at present but it is necessary to be prepared for dealing with a variety of hostile information operations. “Our agencies are doing a good job; they have analysed information and kept in close touch with our partners. It’s too soon today to evaluate international impacts of Syrian events in the longer term, but the security situation in our region is calm right now,” Kaljulaid said. However, the head of state stressed the need to be prepared to deal with various information operations aimed at sowing doubt and causing confusion in all of Europe. She also acknowledged Estonian media for a calm and balanced analysis of the events. Monday’s meeting of the National Defence Council convened by the president focused on last week’s events in Syria and their effect on the security situation in Europe and its neighbourhood, as well as the terrorist attacks in St. Petersburg and Stockholm. The National Defence Council is an advisory body to the president that meets as and when necessary.
Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)