Melagingos antraštės apie Klaipėdos uosto veiklą baltarusių-rusų „naftos karo“ fone (EN)

ERNESTAS TARANAS, ANALYST OF THE EUROPEAN SECURITY PROGRAMME
15/05/2020

CONTEXT

Klaipėda’s port came to Russian media’s attention after Russia stopped supplying crude oil to Belarus and it became the main passage for imports of non-Russian oil to the country. The whole ordeal between Minsk and Moscow began after December 31st, when the two countries failed to renegotiate oil prices for the year 2020 due to Russian tax manoeuvre.
Since Belarus relies on Russia for more than 80% of its overall energy needs, major steps had to be taken by the Belarusian government to avoid such issues in the future. Hence, as a result Belarus decided to start importing crude oil from third-party suppliers (such as Norway, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.) and pursue its quest in diversifying country’s oil imports with hopes to reduce reliance on Russian supply. Such decision also meant that Klaipėda’s port in Lithuania would become one of the main distributors and providers of oil redistribution services for Belarus.
However, after Russia and Belarus finally agreed on new oil tariffs and Russian oil deliveries via Klaipėda to Belarus were resumed, pro-Kremlin media (“Sputnik News” will be used as a prime example) began a disinformation campaign belittling supposedly low turnover ratio of the port and glorifying Russia’s involvement.

TIMELINE

December 31, 2019: Russia and Belarus failed to renegotiate oil prices for 2020.
January 1, 2020: Russia halts oil supplies to Belarus.
January 10, 2020: Crude oil deliveries were partially resumed by the Safmar Group (Russian Federation) with a shipment of approximately 500.000 tons.
January 26, 2020: Belarus received the first batch of 80,000 tons of oil from Norway’s Johan Sverdrup via the Lithuanian port of Klaipėda.
February 20, 2020: Belneftekhim (The Belarusian State Concern for Oil and Chemistry) reports on purchasing around 160 thousand tons of Russian oil from traders, without paying a premium.
March 4, 2020: The first of two tankers with Russian oil purchased from traders arrives to the port of Klaipėda for a transhipment via Lithuanian railways to Naftan refinery in Novopolostsk, Belarus.
March 11, 2020: Belarusian Prime Minister Siarhej Rumas presents a new proposal for Russian oil companies. Ten days later, the two countries reach a deal by negotiating new oil tariffs, which ensure continuous deliveries of Russian oil to the Belarusian oil refineries.
April 29, 2020: Belarusian refineries receive 2 million tonnes of oil, of which 1.56 million tonnes come from Russia.
May 15, 2020: First Shipment of U.S. oil to Belarus via Klaipėda port (set to arrive between June 1-5).
May 18, 2020: Saudi oil reaches OAO Naftan oil refinery of Belarus via Klaipėda port.

“SPUTNIK LIETUVA” AND MISLEADING HEADLINES ABOUT KLAIPĖDA’S PORT

Since headlines can easily shape public opinion it is of utmost importance to understand the effects of these particular misleading headlines. In order to do so, we should understand what a “misleading headline” is in the first place. A misleading headline is a headline whose meaning differs from that of the content of the story. Some common tactics are exaggeration and distortion, which aim to either mislead or cause a sensation. For example, the below-mentioned headlines aim to mislead the public about Lithuania’s inability to sustain a continuous performance and development of the Klaipėda port without the help from Russia.
Klaipėda’s port played a prominent role in Russian-Belarusian oil dispute. And it seems that Kremlin-sympathetic media was not able to resist a chance to use this situation to facilitate Russia’s narrative about supposed Lithuania’s economic misfires. However, this time, headlines were used as a primary tool to misguide “Sputnik Lietuva’s” readers.
In fact, headlines are highly important given the significant roles that they play in impacting how readers understand and interpret news stories. In popular media encoding information in a particular headline through catch phrases has long been known as a primary way to create either a positively or negatively charged headline. Therefore, if we were to look into how disinformation is developed, we would notice that preferred meanings are typically encoded into media texts, influencing how news articles, their headlines and leads are constructed, as well as overall story presentation is shifted to fit desired narrative.
There cannot be any doubt that misleading headlines result in misconceptions in readers who do not read beyond the headlines. Unfortunately, however, many readers spend more time simply scanning headlines than reading a full article.
In fact, such behaviour is common and could be explained by the fact that in the age of information overload many readers aim towards maximising their informational gain without investing much time or cognitive effort. Doing so is not particularly “harmful” and it may even positively contribute to one’s overall knowledge, especially, when being familiar with specific news bits on a superficial level is enough to lead a socially and politically inclusive life.
However, readers’ behaviour as such is often exploited for something more sinister. For the most part, editors of major propaganda media outlets are known to strategically use headlines to effectively sway public opinion and influence individuals’ responses on a certain topic. For instance, if we were to take “Sputnik Lietuva” (a wire-service of “Sputnik News” operating and distributing pro-Kremlin news in both Russian and Lithuanian) as an example and analyse several of its headlines, we could notice that articles commenting on Russia’s role in Klaipėda (Lithuania) port’s logistics performance are usually positively charged. Editors also present readers with headlines glorifying Russia’s involvement at the same time implying that without Russia, Klaipėda’s port would lose most of its turnover.

“Cargo Turnover in Klaipėda Port Decreased”

“Couldn’t Do It Without Russia: Lithuania Received More Gas Through LNG Than Through Gas Pipelines”

“Expert: Baltic States Did Not Lose Russian Transit Thanks to Russia”

“Couldn’t Do It Without Russia: Lithuania Received More Gas Through LNG Than Through Gas Pipelines”
This shows that the main goal of the above mentioned articles is to reinforce an often-repeated narrative about Russia’s economic power and ability to control post-Soviet periphery.
It is also possible to distinguish three pre-encoded false messages that the headlines convey:
1. Lithuania is not capable of securing its own economic well-being.
2. Russia is still playing a major role in Lithuania’s economic development.
3. Without Russia Klaipėda’s port would lose most of its logistics performance.
The monitoring session was conducted over the period of 6 weeks – from March 9th, 2020 to April 19th, 2020. Below-indicated line chart shows a noticeable increase in Klaipėda-Russia related articles during period 9th to 15th of March. This could be explained by the fact that during that time numerous tankers of crude oil had reached Klaipėda’s port. It should also be noted that Lithuanian-language media distributed a higher number of Klaipėda-Russia related articles than the Russian-language media, meaning that Lithuanian-speaking individuals were the targeted audience.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

When it comes to possible effects caused by such headlines, we could notice that certain words within these headlines could very likely lead to an inaccurate understanding of the topic and thus reinforce further actions:
1. Readers becoming more concerned about the performance and seaworthiness of the FSRU Independence in Klaipėda’s port.
2. Fuelled trust issues in government’s ability to take actions concerning country’s energy independence.
3. Major shift in support (or non-support) for future reforms shaping Lithuania’s energy independence.
This report has been written by Ernestas Taranas in cooperation with the International Republican Institute as part of the Beacon Project.