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Executive Summary: THE EFFECTS OF LITHUANIAN CITIZENS COUNTERING RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGNS


Martyna Dobrowolska, Pètra van de Gevel, EUCOM Team; Marco Parks, CENTCOM Team

Justin Maurina, Editor; Carlos Hochberger, Editor; Jennifer Loy, Chief of Staff

Week of Monday, April 18, 2022



Computer Data Hacker[1]



After declaring independence in 1990,[2] the Lithuanian government recognized Russian disinformation campaigns as a national security threat.[3] The Lithuanian government mobilized its institutions and civil society to fight Russian disinformation by reporting suspicious activities and censoring Russia-focused information.[4] Lithuania is trying to develop an efficient national counter-disinformation strategy by having the government and the population work together.[5] Since the Russia-Ukraine conflict started on February 24, 2022, Russian disinformation campaigns developed faster across Europe, creating conspiracy theories.[6] Russian disinformation campaigns will very likely continue developing, likely targeting Russian communities and far-right group members living in Eastern European countries, such as Estonia and Latvia, to obtain popular support. Despite Russian disinformation campaigns spreading across Europe, a group of Lithuanian online volunteers known as “The Elves” is debunking false Russian claims.[7] Their impact on Lithuanian and European resilience regarding disinformation campaigns will very likely grow once other European countries decide to develop resilience-building measures to counter the spread of Russian disinformation in Europe. This will very likely force Russia to change its military strategy in Ukraine, likely increasing cyberattacks against Western government institutions and intelligence services.


Disinformation is critical to Russia’s military doctrine as it allows Russia to create a different narrative across its population about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.[8] Russian propaganda’s effectiveness on its citizens is almost certainly the result of the banning of social media on its territory, such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as independent media outlets.[9] Russia's population almost certainly has difficulty accessing unbiased information as a result. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, announced that a military operation in Ukraine was necessary to de-Nazify Ukraine and protect people subjected to years of genocide by Ukraine's government.[10] This information very likely resulted in Russian citizens supporting the Russian military operation in Ukraine, as they very likely believe it is necessary to protect Russia. Russia will very likely continue spreading disinformation campaigns across Russia to obtain popular support, especially in rural areas where people have less access to technology. This will very likely have a positive effect on Russia as it will almost certainly be able to legitimize the military operations in Ukraine. Russia will also very likely use the widespread support from rural areas as a strategic zone to station military bases.


Russian disinformation campaigns will very likely be directed to Russian communities living in Estonia and Latvia and far-right neo-Nazi groups, such as Russkii Obraz, as they very likely already search for anti-government and radical media content. This very likely makes them ideal targets for these campaigns. The proliferation of Russian disinformation campaigns will very likely increase radicalized ideologies such as white supremacy and anti-immigration perspectives in Eastern European countries with large Russian communities, such as in Estonia and Latvia, and radically conservative groups, such as the far-right Conservative People's Party of Estonia and the National Alliance in Latvia. The Russian campaign will very likely create division between Russia and Ukraine supporters, likely generating instability in Europe. This propaganda will likely prompt Europeans with differing points of view on the conflict to demonstrate against government policies they perceive as unjust. Radicalized groups will very likely show discontent with their governments for engaging in the current conflict. They will very likely protest against economic implications and the increasing number of refugees fleeing into their countries. Far-right and pro-Russia groups will very likely believe in the Russian military mission to de-Nazify Ukraine, likely increasing discrimination against Ukrainian-speaking or ethnically st Ukrainian citizens.


The Elves operate across Europe and monitor pro-Russia profiles and pages on social media, explaining disinformation through understandable language.[11] The Elves’ efforts will very likely hamper the spread of Russian disinformation in neighboring countries, likely increasing people’s resilience to disinformation campaigns about its military operation in Ukraine. As the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues, the ineffectiveness of these campaigns will very likely force Russia to change its military strategy. Russian disinformation campaigns will likely become more sophisticated to broadly target Europe. The mission will likely shift towards hybrid threats that involve the spread of disinformation and cyberattacks against Western and Lithuanian government institutions, intelligence services, and law enforcement, likely creating more insecurity and political instability in Europe. This will very likely slow intelligence sharing among European countries concerning the conflict. European intelligence services would very likely be unable to update Ukraine on Russian military advances. This would very likely allow Russia to occupy more Ukrainian territories, likely emphasizing its military success in protecting Russia from a Western-leaning Nazified Ukraine.


The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) EUCOM and CENTCOM Teams recommend that European intelligence services monitor and keep track of social media to prevent the spread of Russian disinformation campaigns, with a particular focus on Russian communities and far-right groups living abroad, as they could very likely become an easy target for the Russian disinformation campaign online. CTG also recommends that European countries follow the Lithuanian example and invest more in resilience-building measures to fight the ongoing spread of disinformation regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict. CTG further recommends that Lithuania continues to support the Elves campaign and, if necessary, provide funding to allow it to continue. More awareness of the Elves’ efforts will likely increase the number of recruits, very likely increasing the number of people countering Russian disinformation campaigns.


CTG’s EUCOM and CENTCOM Teams will continue to monitor the Elves’ activity in countering Russian disinformation regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The EUCOM Team will observe the Elves’ impact on European security. The CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers will continue to track the development of the Russian disinformation campaigns in Lithuania and Europe to provide fact-based analysis.

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] ‘’Computer Data Hacker’’ by Blogtrepreneur licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Meet the Lithuanian ‘Elves’ Fighting Russian Disinformation, Time, March 2022, https://time.com/6155060/lithuania-russia-fighting-disinformation-ukraine/

[3] Lessons From Lithuania in Tackling Disinformation, European Eye on Radicalization, July 2021, https://eeradicalization.com/lessons-from-lithuania-in-tackling-disinformation/

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ukraine war: Europe’s army of Elves fights real-world Russian disinformation, Euronews, April 2022, https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2022/04/13/ukraine-war-europe-s-army-of-elves-fights-real-world-russian-disinformation

[7] Ukraine's volunteer online army: Meet the ‘cyber elves’ fighting Russian trolls on Facebook, USA Today, March 2022, https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2022/03/24/ukraine-war-facebook-elves-russia-trolls/9457834002/?gnt-cfr=1

[8] Ukraine's volunteer online army: Meet the ‘cyber elves’ fighting Russian trolls on Facebook, USA Today, March 2022, https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2022/03/24/ukraine-war-facebook-elves-russia-trolls/9457834002/?gnt-cfr=1

[9] Russia bans 'extremist' Facebook and Instagram, Deutsche Welle, March 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/russia-bans-extremist-facebook-and-instagram/a-61203007

[10] Ibid

[11] Ukraine war: Europe’s army of Elves fights real-world Russian disinformation, Euronews, April 2022, https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2022/04/13/ukraine-war-europe-s-army-of-elves-fights-real-world-russian-disinformation

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