Q: Madam President, as you know we at Polygraph.info are investigating and debunking Russian disinformation. We see, that NATO is one of the main targets of such information attacks. Why is that?
A: The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is not part of NATO but works very closely with NATO. I know very well that the most important targets for the Kremlin are Western values, the United States, and NATO as well, because the U.S. is a major part of NATO. Russia is using the narrative that NATO is getting close to the Russian borders, that NATO is dangerous, that NATO is bringing war – all that is a lie. It was not NATO, which started the militarization of our region – I mean the Baltic region; on the contrary, it’s Russia, the Kremlin, which wages wars, both in their own neighborhood and in faraway places like Syria. NATO is a target to tie to all evil narratives, so that countries like Ukraine and Georgia do not become [NATO] members. Russia also uses the NATO threat narrative for the domestic audience, to distract people’s attention from what is going on inside Russia. I see that NATO is the Kremlin’s enemy, and is used to help this corrupt [Russian] regime to remain in control.
Q: You have mentioned that as a President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly you have visited Ukraine, can you share with us the details and observations of your visit?
A: Ukraine in particular is a training ground for Kremlin propaganda and hybrid war. We are not talking only about information warfare: there are other measures being used, the same that the KBG used in the Soviet Union. All these measures are at work today, with the addition of modern technology. In Ukraine, I am proud to say a few days ago I visited the eastern front. For me, the most important thing was to say publicly how we in Lithuania feel, and how some, not yet all, in NATO feel: on this frontline, the freedom of all of Europe is being defended. Not only Ukraine’s freedom, but the freedom of Europe as a whole. This is an eastern front for all of Europe. We are very grateful to the Ukrainian soldiers for what they do, for defending us.
Of course, there is also a lot of information warfare [being used] against Ukraine. Even the use of a term very often seen in the Western media – the “conflict in Ukraine” or the “Ukrainian conflict” – this is exactly the narrative which is being utilized by the Kremlin. There is no “conflict in Ukraine:” it is Russian aggression against Ukraine. Denying their [the Russians’] presence is similar to denying their use of chemical weapons in a NATO member state to poison two people. They deny that the same way. They say, ‘those where pilgrims visiting that town.’ They are lying. They are always lying and will continue lying because the state, the Kremlin regime, is based on a fundamental lie. Those of us born in the Soviet Union -- I was born in Soviet-occupied Lithuania -- are better able to recognize this lie.
Q: The Russian government officials said the elections in Donbass and Luhansk regions were “free and fair,” calling them “democratic” - is that true?
A: First of all, there were no elections, those were fake elections. Not a single NATO state or a single EU state will recognize those elections; there will not be any implications because these actions are against every international law and regulation. No matter what they announce or say – these actions are just part of the hybrid war against Ukraine.
Q: You have also visited Georgia, did you see there signs of Russian influence as well?
A: In Georgia, there is a visible Russian interest and it is aimed at preventing Georgia from joining NATO. Moscow is doing everything it can to ensure that the government is soft on Russia, or too afraid to take any steps towards NATO membership.
Q: We see reports in the Russian media, as well as statements by top Russian officials accusing NATO troops of inappropriate, often criminal behavior. How do the local people react to such information? Does it change their opinion on NATO?
A: When there was a NATO battalion with the German soldiers stationed in Lithuania, the Russians, from the very first day, were trying to spread information that German soldiers had raped a local girl. So our media -- not the fake media they [the Russians] use to distribute their information, [but] the real media -- they immediately identified this [as] fake, and reported that nothing of kind had ever happened. Thus, such disinformation works against Putin and against the Kremlin, because fewer and fewer people trust the regime.
Q: What measures is NATO taking in response to Russian information attacks?
A: In NATO member states -- for example, in Riga [Latvia] -- there is a Center of Excellence, a special center researching information and cyber warfare. I believe such centers exist in every NATO state, and in Lithuania, we have one as well. They provide training for journalists, organize conferences; there are people who volunteer without any financial support, they work on the Internet, on Facebook, debunking these lies. In Helsinki, there is a joint EU-NATO group working in the same field. There is also a department in NATO working [on combating Russian disinformation] -- All because the lie is a weapon. Information warfare is a weapon aimed against people’s minds. The ability to influence human minds is as powerful as killing a person physically, because such [disinformation] kills the values in people and creates chaos in a nation.
Q: What are the main challenges in facing Russian disinformation?
A: The most important thing to do is to recognize that the Russian [state] media are not the press, and stop calling them ‘journalism.’ They are not information tools – they are tools of mass destruction of brains, and they must be identified as such. Just like chemical weapons, just like bio weapons, these are weapons as well. When we start recognizing it, then it would be much easier to make decisions regarding such outlets as Russia Today, with the full understanding that they need to be dealt with just like any other weapon of mass destruction.
Q: Are you proposing to stop considering the Russian state media journalists? In the U.S. when the government requested a FARA registration from RT, many American media and journalists said it was violation of speech freedom.
A: There are, of course, opinions connecting this with freedom of speech, with the fight against the press. No, it is not. A lie is not a different opinion. I am for freedom of speech. We have fought for freedom of speech while blocked in the Soviet Union from any free speech. But what the so-called Russian press is doing is exactly the opposite of free speech: they are being used by the Russian regime against freedom of speech, both inside Russia and outside, by spreading lies that discredit free speech. They work against democracy but, regrettably, many people in the democratic world still do not understand this, because they never lived in the Soviet Union. They have no idea what such a lie means – that it is the very same lie used by Hitler, he used the same propaganda; the same used by Stalin; and we know how that ended. It all ended very tragically. That is why it is so important now that more people are able to recognize these lies and stop calling them free speech or a different opinion.
The situation now, of course, is not the same as during the times of Hitler [and] Stalin, though the trends are very similar. Yet today, we have the internet and there is an alternative [source of information]. Even speaking here at Polygraph.info today gives people an opportunity to recognize that. One question that always bothers me is why people in Russia choose to believe all these lies. They, too, have an internet; they have the ability to check the facts, but they keep believing.This means that the lie is dangerous. People have become victims of such constant, massive attacks of lies that they start believing them. Regrettably, the danger is real and the attacks are effective.
Q: Are you satisfied with the level of coordination between the U.S. and EU in response to Russian propaganda?
A: The most difficult part in [dealing with Russian propaganda] is that we all live in democratic countries, and the Kremlin is using to its advantage precisely such democratic tools as freedom of speech, freedom of communications, democratic elections, pluralism of opinion, in our countries. Every election in NATO states is becoming a frontline on the fight for freedom. [This is] not only a fight between political groups inside the countries, but, regrettably, there is also a war on democracy being waged from the outside. The main question is how to make more people understand that, including political leaders in those countries. We see how the Kremlin is using internal political struggles in other countries. At this point, I cannot say wholeheartedly that yes, we have reached a consensus that we have won, that we are fighting as a united front and are successful. I don’t think that is ever going to happen. But it is significantly better today than it was before 2014 – I mean [before] the aggression against Ukraine. Today I see more understanding everywhere. Putin, himself, helps unite the Western nations against such threats. I believe the only weapon against such lies is the truth. There is no other weapon. We can’t fight against a lie by creating a different lie; that will not help. We need to work very patiently, and only the truth helps us.
Q: Macedonia is on a path to the NATO membership, that is if the country ratifies the agreement with Greece. What if it doesn’t?
A: First, I do not believe that NATO needs to have a Plan B for Macedonia. Macedonia and Greece, [which] have already done a lot for Macedonia to become a member of NATO and the European Union, need to have a Plan B. Politicians in Macedonia need to work on that. I think mistakes have been made on both sides. Still, there has also been a breakthrough. I will be meeting with the speaker of the Macedonian Parliament, who is coming to Canada for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly session, and we will be asking the same questions that you have just asked me. I wish the best of success to the people of Macedonia and Greece. I hope they understand that the only state-winner here [if the agreement fails] is the Russian Federation and the Kremlin.