„Child soldiers“ story being used to attack us again, this time from the east


At the end of July, a scandal broke out in the Baltics, when an Italian photographer, Tomaso Clavarino published a story based on his photographs in the Dutch publication, De Correspondent. The focus of the story was on the topic of how the Baltic nations train child soldiers to fight against Russia. The photographer wanted to stage children posing with weapons. Thanks to powerful intervention from the Baltic nations with the editorial section of Postimees at the forefront, the story’s headline and a bit of the focus changed but basically the report stayed the same.

The story showed up to a small extent in the Italian media and the Postimees’s columns reflected communication with the Dutch publication and the photographer. The Russian propaganda media lapdogs Sputnik and Baltnews performed their part in the Baltics. In the summer the photo reportage did not spread widely in Russian propaganda media. This was a surprise to the editors of Propastop, the reference source was from the western media and the content itself could have been a good opportunity to compromise the Baltic nations. However, in our August horoscope we did leave the topic open for scrutiny with attention to a possible future second wave from the Russian propaganda media.

The second wave of the „child soldiers“ topic arrived in late November, when the USA publication The Atlantic re-released the photo reportage. This time the story was significantly more balanced –  the term „child soldiers“, talk of real weapons and a number of emotional oppositional arguments between the Baltic nations and Russia were left out of the article. In the numerous photo reportage by Clavarino there is a briefly written introduction about the three Baltic nations and the volunteer paramilitary associations that hosted him. The Atlantic’s story provided a good basis for casting suspicion and blame from the Russian propaganda media. The story appeared in vesti.ru, 5-tv.ru, ren.tv and other Russian propaganda channels. As usual, the Russian propaganda media lapdogs in the Baltics fulfilled their role on this topic as well this time.

Although the source material from the Atlantic was quite balanced, Russia’s channels have added important Russian propaganda talking points to the topic. The stories published in the Russian media for example, talk of the Baltic nations teaching hatred, a children’s army in which some members are younger than 12 as well as an overall hysteria against Russia. Although the source of the stories is credited to the Atlantic, cuts from other material are grafted into the stories. For example riafan.ru has added a section from an interview on the RT channel which states that there will be future political changes in Europe; the end of EU support for the Baltic nations in 2020 will contribute to a significant decline in living standards and an increase in dissatisfaction, which is why they need to find someone to blame and Russia seems to fit the bill.

A quotation from the chairman of the NATO Military Committee has also been introduced; NATO is not planning on increasing the troop size in the Baltic nations and Poland. This is presented in the text as the reason for anti-Russian hysteria. The topic that has come about due to an Italian photographer’s story has given us a further example on how Russian channels are very „inventive“ in the way they approach things.  Although the original source was quite neutral at the time, it was still possible to weave in stories that fire up anti-Baltic feelings. Quite often all that is needed for our eastern neighbour’s propaganda media is a striking headline which sets the mood and from then on the content or details of the article are no longer important.

Photo: screen shot from 5-tv.ru website