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Baltic States Battle Russian Media Blitz


Now, one way that Russia's trying to influence the situation in Ukraine is through its state-run media. They are mounting an intense campaign to support the separatists and discredit the government in Kiev. The campaign extends beyond Russia's borders, targeting Russian speakers in neighboring countries. The small countries on Russia's Western edge are trying to strike a delicate balance, countering what they see as propaganda and lies without resorting to censorship. Here's NPR's Corey Flintoff.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: The Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - are among the smallest nations in the world, so there's no corner in any of them that's beyond the reach of Russian radio and television. Russian media are almost all state-run or allied to the state, and the messages are what the Kremlin wants people to know.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FLINTOFF: This is one of the nightly Russian news broadcasts in Riga, the Latvian capital. It's devoted almost entirely to news from eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting government troops. The broadcast portrays traced the separatists as self-defense forces who are trying to protect their region from neo-Nazis and fascists. It accuses the Ukrainian government of war crimes and atrocities. Latvia's foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, says it's not honest journalism.

EDGARS RINKEVICS: We are worried about this amount of propaganda, sometimes even open lies, we see on Russian TV.

FLINTOFF: Russian speakers make up more than 30 percent of Latvia's population, and they get most of their news from Russian media. Rinkevics says it wouldn't be in keeping with Latvia's democratic values to block the Russian broadcast because of their content, but that the government will act to block what it sees as hate speech.

RINKEVICS: They have actually had a case when our board that oversees electronic media had the - the decision to block, for three months, one channel.

FLINTOFF: Latvia's decision to block the Russian TV channel drew an indignant response from Konstantin Dolgov, the envoy on human rights with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

KONSTANTIN DOLGOV: (Through translator) Latvia persistently taken the path of violating basic human rights and ignoring internationally recognized standards.

FLINTOFF: Dolgov said that Latvia's real motive was to block its ethnic-Russian residents from receiving alternative news, including criticism of Latvia's practice of denying citizenship to those who don't speak the Latvian language. Latvian officials say their decision to suspend the Russian channels was based on a series of specific violations, which included this commentary from well-known Russian broadcaster Dmitry Kiselyov.


DMITRY KISELYOV: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: He says Russia is the only country in the world that can really turn the USA into radioactive ash. Last year, President Putin appointed Kiselyov head of the new international Russian news agency Russia Today. Ainars Dimants is the head of the board that blocked the Russian channel.

AINARS DIMANTS: First of all, we wanted to punish this because this was (foreign language spoken) a violation - a violation of our law regarding propaganda of war which is prohibited.

FLINTOFF: Dimants says there's a real financial penalty for channels that are blocked because they lose substantial advertising revenue. But Dimants and other Latvian officials say the real solution to media pressure from Russia is not to block the broadcast. Ojars Kalnins is head of the foreign affairs committee in parliament.

OJARS KALNINS: Some people, the more extreme nationalists, want to either censor or restrict the Russian broadcasts. The rest of us feel the only the - only way you deal with that is to counter it with better Russian-language programming that's actually truthful and objective. But that costs money.

FLINTOFF: Kalnins says the Baltic nations are looking to cooperating on a Russian-language service that might also include participation from the European Union and the United States. Corey Flintoff, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.