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Russian Media Legitimizes Baltic Fringe Disinformation Outlet

August 24th, 2021 13:16

The DFR­Lab, a US think tank, is report­ing that Russ­ian media out­lets have recent­ly start­ed to ampli­fy Baltic dis­in­for­ma­tion out­let “The Baltic Word,” which has been linked to a cyber espi­onage cam­paign, grant­i­ng legit­i­ma­cy to an enti­ty that would oth­er­wise be con­sid­ered fringe. Accord­ing to the DFR­Lab report:

August 9, 2021 Krem­lin-owned media out­lets like Balt­news and Sput­nik, along with Krem­lin-affil­i­at­ed out­lets Riafan.ru, Ekonomi­ka Segod­nya, and Fondsk.ru, recent­ly start­ed to ampli­fy fringe dis­in­for­ma­tion out­let The Baltic Word, which has pre­vi­ous­ly been linked to the cyber-enabled influ­ence oper­a­tion known as Oper­a­tion Ghost­writer.  The Baltic Word pub­lish­es arti­cles by anony­mous online per­sonas with Lat­vian and Lithuan­ian sound­ing names. These arti­cles are usu­al­ly hos­tile toward NATO and crit­i­cal of the Baltic state gov­ern­ments. The arti­cles are then usu­al­ly ampli­fied on oth­er self-pub­lish­ing plat­forms like OpE­d­News and The Duran. Krem­lin media — both owned and affil­i­at­ed — have recent­ly start­ed cit­ing The Baltic Word’s arti­cles as if they were legit­i­mate West­ern media. The DFR­Lab pre­vi­ous­ly ana­lyzed the Eng­lish-lan­guage dis­in­for­ma­tion out­let in 2019 and 2020.  This appears to be a change in the Kremlin’s strat­e­gy toward tar­get­ing the Baltic states with hos­tile infor­ma­tion. In 2019, The Baltic Word tar­get­ed an Eng­lish-speak­ing audi­ence and had lit­tle pick-up among Russ­ian-lan­guage out­lets. Since 2020, though, Krem­lin media out­lets have adapt­ed its sto­ries for their Russ­ian-speak­ing audi­ences, grant­i­ng some legit­i­ma­cy to an enti­ty that would oth­er­wise be con­sid­ered fringe.

Read the rest here.

The report notes that The Baltic Word was involved in a state-linked cyber espi­onage cam­paign code-named “Ghost­writer.” Ghost­writer is an ongo­ing influ­ence cam­paign that pri­mar­i­ly tar­gets audi­ences in Lithua­nia, Latvia, and Poland and pro­motes nar­ra­tives crit­i­cal of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) pres­ence in East­ern Europe. The cam­paign ampli­fied fal­si­fied arti­cles and op-eds designed to appear as com­ing from mil­i­tary offi­cials and polit­i­cal fig­ures in the tar­get countries.

Accord­ing to the report, Rus­sia-owned and pro-Russ­ian media out­lets such as Balt­news and RIA FAN ampli­fied anti-NATO arti­cles from The Baltic Word, giv­ing the Eng­lish-lan­guage fringe out­let which pre­vi­ous­ly lacked any pres­ence with­in Russ­ian-lan­guage media an added veneer of legitimacy.

In May, we report­ed that sus­pect­ed state-spon­sored cyberes­pi­onage actor UNC1151 that engages in cre­den­tial har­vest­ing and mal­ware cam­paigns con­ducts some com­po­nents of Ghost­writer influ­ence activ­i­ty. Oth­er recent GIOR report­ing on Russia’s cyber-enabled influ­ence oper­a­tions tar­get­ing the West has included:

  • In July, we report­ed that actors linked to Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion oper­a­tions are tar­get­ing Amer­i­can far-right audi­ences on alter­na­tive online platforms.
  • In May, we report­ed on a sus­pect­ed Rus­sia-led cyber cam­paign tar­get­ing Germany’s Green par­ty leader Annale­na Baerbock.
  • In April, we pub­lished a GIOR inves­ti­ga­tion detail­ing how Rus­sia uses for­mer West­ern diplo­mats and jour­nal­ists to make a Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da out­let appear legit­i­mate and increase its cir­cu­la­tion to West­ern audiences.