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Information warfare in Latvia between Russia, the West intensifying

Tatyana Zhdanok, co-leader of the Latvian Russian Union, is seen in Riga, Latvia, on Oct. 3, 2018. (Mainichi/Hitoshi Omae)

RIGA, Latvia -- A Latvian political leader of Russian descent angrily shouts, "It's you that are conquerors and bashing us Russians." Inspired by her agitation, Russian-Latvian residents take over City Hall.

This is a scene from "World War Three: Inside the War Room" produced by the British public broadcaster BBC in 2016. The scene is set in Daugavpils, the second largest city in Latvia, which is one of the three Baltic states. Some 80 percent of the city's residents are of Russian descent.

The program is based on a scenario depicting citizens' uprising instigated by the Russian administration of President Vladimir Putin.

The BBC explains that the work dramatizes heated debate on Britain's response to emergency situations and the development of a dispute, adding that the scene in Latvia is just the subject matter to depict the drama.

However, many Latvian residents of Russian descent felt uncomfortable about the scene.

"It's a provocative act that can't just be forgotten as a joke," says Tatyana Zhdanok, co-leader of the Latvian Russian Union, a political party that calls for respect for the rights of Russian-Latvians. The political leader in "World War Three" is believed to be modeled after 68-year-old Zhdanok. However, unlike the political leader in the program, Zhdanok is rather calm.

The three Baltic states were previously under the rule of the now defunct Soviet Union. Fifteen years have passed since Latvia joined NATO and the European Union. However, the country appears to be the frontline of a rising confrontation between Europe and Russia.

In October 2014, seven months after Russia's annexation of Crimea, southern Ukraine, the Russian-language news website "Balt News" was set up in the three Baltic states. The news website has raised questions about the Baltic states' relations with NATO saying, "NATO might not be able to respond swiftly to an emergency situation in Estonia."

A Latvian investigative journalism organization called Re:Baltica and others said the news site is funded by Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian state-run news agency through at least one company in a third country, adding that readers who have uploaded their comments to the site got paid.

Latvia is not necessarily on the defensive. In the Latvian capital of Riga, a group of journalists who have effectively defected from Russia set up Medusa Project, an independent news website to dispatch news to counter coverage from Russia's point of view.

The Latvian Foreign Ministry also offered office space to the BBC this past spring as Britain is intensifying its conflict with Russia.

An official of a country close to the situation says there is intensifying pressure on the three Baltic states to get closer to Russia, while another says it is ridiculous for the Latvian government to participate in an information warfare in the West.

The information warfare in Latvia between Russia and the West is only intensifying.

(Japanese original by Hitoshi Omae, Moscow Bureau)

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