By Tim Marcin
August 10, 2015

To combat what it calls “Russian propaganda,” the United States announced a $500,000 grant to train Russian-speaking journalists in the Baltic States, a notice posted to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, said. The announcement, which was made at the end of July, offered to award the grant to a public or private nonprofit organization to design and operate a 12-month training program in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the Moscow Times reported.

“As Russian propaganda and misinformation multiplies, the media in all three countries need the skills and tools to counter it with fact-based, credible news reporting,” the notice said. “The program would also build a more mature, proactive 21st century media landscape in all three countries.”

The ideal program would last a year, and include in-country workshops, cash awards for journalists pursuing investigative projects and study trips to the United States to visit places like newsrooms or journalism schools, the release said.

The Baltic States have grown increasingly concerned over Russian media after the portrayal of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Crimea, which was a part of Ukraine, was Russian territory after pro-Russia separatists seized power before holding a disputed referendum. Since the annexation, at least 6,400 people have been killed in the expanded conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russia separatists and the Ukrainian government. Western leaders have long suggested Russia was involved in the conflict, something the Kremlin repeatedly has denied.

Some Russian television channels have been banned in the formerly Soviet Baltic States amid concerns the broadcasts could push Russian nationalism, the Moscow Times reported. Latvia and Estonia are set to launch their own Russian-language channels to provide a different viewpoint than the Russian channels’ narrative amid the conflict in Ukraine, the outlet reported.

Germany said in April it would train and provide Russian-language content to the Baltic region amid concerns about Russian propaganda. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the country would bring in and train Baltic journalists and Berlin would advise Baltic governments on media strategies, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“With regard to this massive, expanded propaganda by Russia, in this case there are very concrete things that will be implemented,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said after meeting with Steinmeier, according to the Wall Street Journal. “I think it will be the first real support for the measures we are taking for implementing strategic communications.”

The major goals of the United States’ grant are to improve investigative journalism skills and to create a lasting network of Baltic journalists, the announcement said. Proposals were due by the end of the month for the grant, which was expected to be awarded toward the end of September. The project was scheduled to be completed by November 2016.