“The focal point of Russian aggression in Ukraine is information,” says Janis Sarti, director of NATO’s Strategic Communications Center of Excellence.
In an interview with The Geopost given during the StratCom Dialogue held in Riga, Latvia last week he points to Russia’s tendency for disinformation, or information darknes, as the main methodology of the invasion.
Our interlocutor also talks about the initiative of the center he leads, together with 17 other nations, to shed light on this “darkness” and create facts about NATO, its allies and partners.
Geopost: Mr. Janis, thank you for this interview for the Geopost, can you tell us more about the StratCom Dialogue here in Riga today?
We are one of the NATO centers that is meant to develop knowledge in a particular area, research experiment in our area of strategic communications or in other words, how to make your idea win in a conflict and war and our focus is research experimentation doctrine development, training, exercising, and for that we have 17 nations that have joined their forces to create these facts and knowledge for NATO and allies and partners, and this one of the events where we try to spread the ideas that have been created that we need to think about as a strategic communications community.
Geopost: One year after Russian aggression in Ukraine, what is your comment, how does this reflect in Baltic states and in Riga, Latvia in particular?
Well, the war is happening quite a far away, yet, if you feel in a kind Riga and in Baltics, the war feels much closer, because there have been parallels people drawing in their family history, what happens in a war when Russia attacks, that is a first thing, the second thing, we clearly see how big part of the war is information, and basically being the central focal points of the warfare and therefore it is a big opportunity for us as a center to study in a contemporary 21st century environment how it plays out and acquires many interesting ways that we made from that war.
Geopost: We have Russian influence in Baltic states, how is situation now in Media and in NGO’s?
Clearly, Latvia has a specific vulnerability, we have a larger Russian speaking population, so Russia has attempted over a decade to use them as a ??? of influence, but it would be mistake to say that all Russian speakers in Latvia are pro-Putin, not at all, and in fact the shift has been happening in other way, they are increasingly more European that pro-Russian, but of course there are pockets of people that are still under the spell of Russian propaganda, but what has been happening during the war, there has been increased climb down on Russian propaganda outlets in Riga, so, Russian-Kremlin sponsored TV and news sites are closed in Latvia, so you cannot access them. And of course, we are hosting a large group of independent Russian journalists that are anti Putin, to provide a different perspective from a Russian language environment to what is happening, both, in Russia and as well in Ukraine.
Geopost: How is Russian disinformation and propaganda influencing in media in Latvia, do you have examples how you fight them?
Well, there is one thing about disinformation and propaganda by Russia, it likes silence and it likes shady areas, the moment you put a light on them they lose their efficiency and that has been the key methodology, both within a government as well as in a non-governmental sector to find out and expose them for what they do. There have been a number of news outlets affiliated with the “Sputnik”, with “Russia Today” that have been trying to hide their affiliation that has been exposed, and of course, that is how their efficiency and consumption level here falls, the other thing is of course understanding the links between different players in the information space, and there is a lot of research and focus happening in this country as well as in the Baltics.
It is interesting that although Baltic states have a considerable vulnerability when you think about Russian propaganda, the Russian speakers, social stratification that is used by Russia sometimes as a means, we still are one of the most resilient nations in Europe vis-a-vi Russian propaganda, so we try to make a defect into an effect. /Geopost/