Verified. President Zelensky’s visit to the Baltic States: RUSpropaganda Rhetoric, debunked

Written by Volodymyr Solovian HWAG/UCMC

Propaganda Digest: This is our weekly analysis that exposes the most exaggerated, misleading, and outrageous rhetoric from recent Russian media sources. The digest is aimed at promoting critical thinking to better debunk the dangerous manipulation of Russian propaganda.

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The President of Ukraine made his first foreign visit (January 10-11) to Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit is a sign of gratitude to the Baltic countries for their unwavering support from the first days of the war.

The leaders of the states agreed on further military cooperation, discussed the integration of Ukraine into the EU and NATO. Zelensky warned colleagues: if Russia destroys Ukraine, the Baltic countries may be next. 

 Russian Narrative 1 :

Employing dehumanization tactics against Zelensky, utilizing ridicule of his appearance as a means to diminish the President and downplay Ukraine’s military and political strength 

Sergey Mardan, Russian propagandist (233,000 subscribers), Telegram Channel

“Meeting the Estonian Prime Minister Kallas, the Ukrainian showed up as usual in an unironed “military” style sweater. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. However, it turns out that it had the coordinates of the village, Dobrovelichkovka in the Kirovohrad region. According to Ukrainian mythology, this is the geographical center of Ukraine within the “1991 borders.” In this way, “Zelensky is sending a clear signal to Moscow—territory concessions are not on the table”.

Olesya Loseva, Russian propagandist (27, 600), Telegram Channel

Photos from Tallinn arrived – dwarf Zelensky, lost in an unwashed government limousine.

Voice of Mordor, (164,000), Telegram Channel

“He met with the Gauleiters of the Baltic States. That’s understandable—even if he didn’t elevate his status in this company, it’s closer to him. He doesn’t look like such a dwarf against the backdrop of Lithuania.”

 Verified : A classic, somewhat lazy, tactic Russian propaganda resorts to when there’s a lack of rhetoric to distort and a real concern among Ukraine’s achievements is dehumanizing Zelensky. It mocks his appearance and portrays him to the domestic audience as insignificant, nothing to fear, and certainly inferior to ‘us.’ During Zelensky’s visits to the Baltic States, this trend manifested itself in disparaging remarks about the Ukrainian president’s height. However, the irony of the ‘Zelensky the dwarf’ rhetoric is that Zelensky and Putin are said to be the same height, 170cm. 

Zelensky’s choice of clothing during state visits does not detract from his ability to accomplish the mission at hand: garnering support (both financial and military) and fostering solidarity, with the visits being declared a total success in this regard. Lithuania announced a new 200 million euro aid package, Latvia confirmed the delivery of additional howitzers, 155 mm ammunition, anti-tank weapons, helicopters, and drones, to name a few, and Estonia announced assistance of $1.3 billion until 2027. Therefore, his decision to don informal, military-themed attire showing symbols of Ukraine is a deliberate choice by the president. It also serves as a reminder to the global audience that Ukraine’s situation differs from that of Europe—it is a nation at war. 

 Russian Narrative :

Ukraine’s Pivot to the Baltics Signals Exhaustion of Support Options, Yet the Baltics Have Nothing to Give Kyiv 

Nikita Danyuk, a member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation:

“Money is dwindling, and attention towards Ukraine is diminishing. So, they gathered with their group, a gang of Nazis, and ask, ‘Alright, how do we bring Ukraine back into the spotlight? How do we resume financial and military aid?’ And some supposedly ‘smart,’ I don’t know, ragul (Derogatory term for Ukrainians, especially the Western part of Ukraine) says, ‘Alright, we need to go to the Baltics.’ However, there is no money or military aid in the Baltics… So when Zelensky goes on this tour, is he admitting his powerlessness? Are other countries no longer welcoming him?”

Olesya Loseva (27, 600), Telegram Channel

It’s so rare for someone to fly to Estonians for negotiations that they even misspelled the beggar’s name.

Armen Gasparyan (201,000), Telegram Channel

[…] “If you go to the Baltic States, it means you are not welcome anywhere else. Not even in Poland.”

Voice of Mordor (164,000), Telegram Channel

It’s evident that asking the Balts for money is futile; they themselves are struggling

 Verified : As the U.S. Congress grapples with a decision on Ukrainian aid, Russian propaganda exploits the situation, suggesting Ukraine is abandoned and financially strapped in 2024. While American aid is crucial, the Baltics are not far behind in terms of GDP; they have been the most generous contributors. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 posed economic challenges for Latvia. GDP growth slowed to 2.8% in 2022 from 4.3% in 2021, influenced by Russia’s role as a trade partner and compounded by EU sanctions. Despite these challenges, Latvia consistently advocated for stronger sanctions against the aggressor nation. 

From January 2022 to June 2023, Latvia has provided Ukraine with over 1% of its GDP, ranking second among Baltic nations, with Estonia leading and Lithuania following. This commitment underscores the Baltic countries’ ability to support Ukraine despite economic hardships exacerbated by Russia. And so any rhetoric about the Baltics having ‘no money’ is unfounded. 

While attention on Ukraine has understandably waned entering its third year of war, it still remains a top priority for NATO, the EU, and the U.S, shaping the alliance’s and member countries economic and military policies for years to come. Moreover, ‘Ukraine’ is a topic that will and is becoming one of the most vocal points for who to vote for in the 2024 U.S. presidential elections, which underscores its enduring significance.

 Russian Narrative :

Ukraine Ventures into the Core of Russiaphobia

Armen Gasparyan, (201,000), Telegram Channel:

“There is one ‘sacred’ place on Earth where someone like Zelensky will always be welcomed. These are the Baltic countries. That’s why in Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, you can make any statements; you can be anti-Russian to your heart’s content because the local population is exactly the same.”

Olesya Loseva, (27, 600), Telegram Channel:

He (Alar Karispresident of Estonia) vented a dose of Russophobic bitterness to the delight of the White House and went to treat Zelensky with sprats (fish), that’s all he’s got. Well, at least we got to see the President of Estonia for the first time!”

Vadim Abba, Russian Diary Telegram:

The Baltic front is part of the Ukrainian front in the United States of Europe. These extremists, akin to Zelensky in their disregard for their own people, are willing to sacrifice them and satisfy expansionist ambitions at their expense. Ukraine is developing along a similar path as the Baltics did. They restrict the voting rights of those with pro-Russian sentiments, ban the Russian language, rewrite history, remove monuments of those who once liberated them, and embark on militarization”.

 Verified : For many Russian speakers in Ukraine and the West, the war served as a wake-up call, causing disgust and distancing from everything Russian. Russian influence waned as the vulnerability to manipulation by Russia’s language-centric propaganda was reduced, aided by the adoption of legislation to disconnect state-controlled Russian media from EU member states. This move put an end to Russia’s most effective means of infiltrating and poisoning the West with narratives profitable to Russia alone.

Last September, Riga passed a law establishing Latvian as the sole language in the country’s schools by September 2025, as part of a larger de-Russification effort to keep Latvian as the official language. This move, motivated by historical considerations of Soviet forced russification policies, seeks to secure a safer future by reducing reliance on Russia, which extends beyond energy to include cultural and linguistic domains. 

Moreover, the Baltic countries’ commitment to de-Russification is consistent with their pursuit of independence from Russia’s imperialistic goals. After all, Russia used and continues to use the Russian language as one of their nonsensical justifications for invading a sovereign nation (Ukraine) in order to ‘protect’ the rights of Russian speakers. Many Latvians fear that this logic will be used against them and other Baltic states. 

Now, regarding historical rewriting, an exceptional example can be found in Russia’s newly mandated 11th-grade history textbook, which contains numerous distortions. The text systematically rewrites segments of history that portray Russia negatively, strategically crafting a narrative in which Russia plays the role of a victim forced to defend itself against the ‘collective West.’ This strategic distortion serves as a dubious justification for possible military action.

 Russian Narrative :

Social and Economic Critique of the Baltics, A Nation in Flux, ‘Unmodernized,’ and in Declined Since the Soviet Union

Andrey Klintsevich, military expert at the Russian political talk-shows:

The Lithuanians gave him two hundred million, or, so to speak, some kind of it. Out of three quad bikes, they gave away two so that one would remain. […] The Baltic countries, which are scraping the last bit of money… Lithuania is living so poorly now, like it has never lived before. I was born in the Baltics because my father was serving as a paratrooper in the city of Alytus. I went there—to the place where I was in my childhood. The officer’s houses, two-story wooden ones from the 80s, are still standing, and officers still live there. Nothing has changed! They haven’t modernized; they are horrified themselves, but no one will ask the population

 Verified : Lithuania’s post-Soviet Union economy has in fact prospered thanks to pivotal reforms implemented in the mid-1990s, fostering an open and rapidly growing economy. Strategic diversification of export markets, particularly towards the EU, softened the impact of the Russian financial crisis and actually resulted in rapid export growth, with Lithuania leading not only the Baltic region but also Europe in terms of export value in 2017, leaving any rhetoric of Lithuania ‘living poorly like it never has before’ fake. This track is consistent with Russian propaganda to depict all ‘post-soviet states’ as in decline, failing without Russia.

Moreover, Lithuania claimed the highest position in the happiness ranking among the Baltic states in the 2018 World Happiness Report, while Russia lagged 9 places behind. This stands as a compelling refutation of any narrative suggesting a low quality of life or enduring hardship in Lithuania—a testament that such claims are, in fact, disinformation. The animosity exhibited by propagandists towards Lithuania and other Baltic states can be attributed to their resolute rejection of energy dependence on Russia and, therefore, could be considered a failure of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.