#BalticBrief: Disinformation Through Mistranslation

How a fake translation intended to cause a rift between Lithuania and Ukraine

(Source: @DFRLab)

On March 5, Lithuanian news portal Delfi.lt reported on a video with false subtitles spreading in the Ukrainian information space. The video alleged to depict Lithuania’s Minister of Defense Raimundas Karoblis recognizing Russia-annexed Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.

The 27-second-long video showed Defense Minister Karoblis at a press conference. Speaking in Lithuanian, he said:

“We will talk to Ukrainians about the real situation. What we know, we believe in Ukrainian forces, they are capable of handling the risks and are adequately prepared for the situation.”

The user-generated translation in Ukrainian and Russian, however, read:

“The financial influence that American defense corporations today have over Ukraine is not entirely justified. It’s time to look the truth in the eye and recognize Crimea as part of Russia, which under no circumstances will give Crimea back [to Ukraine]. The defense corporations should pay closer attention to Lithuania so that the U.S. would have the opportunity to adequately react in case of any changes in the defense situation.”

The glaring discrepancy between the two texts showed that this was not likely an honest translation mistake, but rather an intentional attempt to distort the minister’s statement, and thus cause a rift between Lithuania and Ukraine.

The video with the false subtitles first appeared on Liveleak.com, a video sharing website, on March 2.

(Source: Liveleak.com)

The text accompanying the video said:

Lithuanian Minister of National Defense Raimundas Karoblis called Crimea a part of Russia and urged US defense corporations to abandon useless attempts to carry out multi-million-dollar investments in Ukraine until it eliminates corruption. The Minister also noted that Ukraine is not even a member of NATO, but it actively speculates on the situation in the Donbass region and Crimea in order to receive financial and military assistance, thus diverting the US attention from real security threats to the Baltic States.

The video was uploaded by user “Dalia”, an account created on February 26, 2018.

(Source: Liveleak.com)

The same video was also published by the YouTube user “Wild Tonight”, who like “Dalia” is completely anonymous and has not published anything else on the platform.

(Source: YouTube / Wild Thoughts)
(Source: YouTube / Wild Thoughts)

The story was also uploaded on TopTopic.com, a Reddit alternative where users can create, discover, and discuss compelling content. The user posted the story under the a username “@ruslanfranko”. Similarly to “Dalia” and “Wild Tonight” had not posted on the platform before. The pattern of behavior between newly created anonymous accounts posting the same content implies either a suspiciously new audience or a degree of coordination.

(Source: TopTopic.com)

Audience Impact

It appears that the video was watched less than 1,000 times before it was de-bunked by Delfi.lt. Most of the comments under the YouTube and LiveLeak videos pointed out the false translation and it does not appear to have had any significant audience impact.

This is not the first time that Minister Karoblis was a target of disinformation. On January 18, a story appeared on the website of a Lithuanian TV channel TV3, which accused the minister of being gay and of harassing fellow diplomats and journalists. The story was a result of a cyber attack on TV3’s website and was removed within five minutes. The attacker’s IP address was from St. Petersburg, Russia.

The fact that the false translation failed to gain any significant traction is a testament to the increasing resilience of Ukrainian and Lithuanian societies to disinformation.


Donara Barojan is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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