June 13, 2018 / 4:34 PM / in 10 days

Lithuania sees fake news attempt to discredit NATO exercises

KULAUTUVA, Lithuania (Reuters) - Lithuania’s defense minister said on Wednesday a report about a U.S. armored vehicle supposedly killing a boy there was fake news and an attempt to discredit NATO exercises in the Baltics.

Allied troops cross Neman river during NATO exercise Saber Strike in Kulautuva, Lithuania June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Andrius Sytas

Posted to an obscure website but made to look like a story from Lithuania’s top news website Delfi, the June 7 blog saying a U.S. Army vehicle hit a boy on a bicycle bore the hallmarks of a fake rape claim published last year, Raimondas Karoblis told Reuters.

The story included a picture purporting to show a broken bicycle lying in front of the vehicle.

The minister did not identify who might have been responsible, but said he had informed his NATO counterparts.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Army paratroopers leave C-17 aircraft to land during NATO exercise Swift Response 2018 on Adazi military ground, Latvia June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

“Such deceitful news is almost a textbook example ... so others should know that things like this are possible and they should prepare for them,” said Karoblis.

“There is now doubt that someone was preparing for such incidents and had various scenarios in place.”

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A senior NATO general has said last year Russia was behind the false rape claims against German soldiers and warned of more such reports.

The Russian defense ministry has repeatedly denied that Moscow stages any such disinformation campaigns.

U.S. Army Europe was not immediately available for comment on the blog, which surfaced as some 20,000 NATO and other Western troops trained in a series of war games across the Baltics this month.

They culminated on Wednesday in a dramatic river crossing aimed at testing NATO troops’ ability to move quickly to the alliance’s eastern flank in the event of a conflict with Russia.

Worried since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea that Moscow could invade Poland or the Baltic states, NATO has bolstered its eastern flank with troops, war games and equipment ready for a rapid response force of up to 40,000 personnel.

The United States is testing NATO forces’ readiness for combat, while Russia says the alliance build-up threatens the stability of central Europe.

Reporting By Andrius Sytas; editing by John Stonestreet

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