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Latvia can teach U.S. lesson about how to counter Russian meddling - USA Today
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    Latvia can teach U.S. lesson about how to counter Russian meddling - USA Today

    WASHINGTON, March 8 (LETA) - Latvia can teach the United States a few things about how to counter Russian meddling in politics, USA Today wrote on Wednesday.

    One important lesson from Russian efforts to exacerbate ethnic conflict, spread disinformation and possibly compromise Latvian officials is that Russian methods keep changing, according to advice from Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.

    "When it comes to the use of information as a weapon or propaganda, Russia does not have an approach that one size fits all," Rinkevics said in an interview to the U.S. newspaper. "There are different ways of conducting political meddling and also during political elections," he said.

    Rinkevics was in Washington for meetings to prepare for an April 3 summit with President Trump and the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Baltic foreign ministers discussed how to counter Russian "disinformation efforts and malicious cyber activity" when they met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, the State Department said.

    U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Republican Donald Trump. But Rinkevics said Russia has a broader goal, based on the meddling he observed in Latvia and Europe.

    When Catalonian separatists in Spain sought an independence referendum last summer, Russians on the Internet polarized the public by amplifying both separatists and those supporting a united Spain, he said.

    "The goal of (Russia's) meddling is not to help one side or the other but to get extreme opinions clashing to undermine the fabric of Western society and institutions," Rinkevics said.

    One remedy is to build strong partnerships between government and the social media industry to close down automated accounts that spread false stories and to expose the funding source for political ads and smear campaigns, he said.

    When Canadian troops deployed to Latvia last summer to help beef up NATO's presence there, Russian-language Internet sites launched disparaging stories that portrayed the Canadians as beer-buying homosexuals who lived in luxury apartments at the expense of local taxpayers. "Everybody has a right to know this is fake information and who is behind spreading it," the Latvian foreign minister said.

    After Russia seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and supported a pro-Russian insurrection in eastern Ukraine in 2014, it also tried to create the impression that pro-Russian separatists were gaining popularity in Latvia and other Baltic countries.

    When someone created a Web page for a "People's Republic of Latgale, named for an eastern region of Latvia, and invented a flag for it, Latvian law enforcement officials stepped in, Rinkevics said.

    "It was investigated as fake and it stopped," but not before The New York Times and others wrote about the supposed separatist movement as real, he said.

    Rinkevics questioned whether Russia is behind a recent political scandal involving the president of the Bank of Latvia, Ilmars Rimsevics, as his country prepares for its October election. Rimsevics was detained and questioned on February 17 in connection to a bribery case, a fishing trip in Russia and American allegations that a Latvian bank violated sanctions on North Korea.

    "In an election, this will have an impact," Rinkevics said.

    • Published: 08.03.2018 13:37
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