This week, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) opened new offices in Vilnius, Lithuania and Riga, Latvia. Announced in March 2022, these offices are critical parts of a comprehensive strategy to counter disinformation and reach new audiences in Belarus and Russia with trusted, independent news and information.
At an event commemorating the Vilnius launch, RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly was joined by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Speaker of the Parliament Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, exiled Belarusian leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Robert S. Gilchrist, former RFE/RL president and member of the RFE/RL Board of Directors Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin, and other esteemed guests. At an event in Riga, Fly was joined by Latvian President Egils Levits, Latvian Minister of Culture Nauris Puntulis, U.S. Ambassador to Latvia John Carwile, members of Parliament, and media and civil society partners.
“I am honored that RFE/RL journalists have been welcomed in Riga and Vilnius by the Latvian and Lithuanian governments and local communities,” said Fly. “Having served Latvian and Lithuanian audiences during difficult periods in their histories, we are excited to be able to return now to work together to provide new generations who are still denied freedom with access to unbiased reporting.”
RFE/RL’s Riga office will become one of the company’s largest reporting hubs, with state-of-the-art facilities. It will host journalists from Current Time -- a 24/7 Russian-language news platform -- and the Russian Service who were forced out of Russia in March 2022, as well as new staff hired in Latvia. The office will produce Russian-language content offerings, including investigative journalism and non-news programming for RFE/RL’s soon-to-be-launched streaming platform Votvot. Current Time’s popular morning show, which frequently trends number one on Russian YouTube, will be produced from Riga, along with the Russian Service’s signature YouTube news shows.
In addition to meeting the demand for independent news within Russia, RFE/RL’s Riga office will produce Russian-language content for audiences in the Baltics, wider Europe, and beyond. A new daily news program will cover the Baltic region, providing an important counterpoint to disinformation about the three EU members and the freedoms enjoyed by their citizens.
A Digital Innovation Lab in the Riga office will develop new reporting tools, storytelling formats, and distribution processes that are replicable at RFE/RL and within the broader media community. In partnership with the Open Technology Fund, the Digital Innovation Lab will examine new ways to respond to Russian censorship and disinformation across RFE/RL’s markets.
RFE/RL’s new Vilnius office will host journalists exiled from Belarus in the aftermath of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s fraudulent 2020 re-election. However, the Vilnius office is more than a haven. Current Time will create new video products from Vilnius for Russian-speaking audiences in Belarus as alternatives to Kremlin and other state propaganda. RFE/RL’s Minsk bureau was raided and sealed, and the Belarus Service’s websites were blocked in July 2021. In December 2021, RFE/RL was designated an “extremist organization,” a label that criminalized both the reporting and consumption of RFE/RL content. Two Belarus Service journalists – Ihar Losik and Andrey Kuznechyk – remain unjustly imprisoned by the Lukashenka regime.
While in Lithuania, Fly met with Speaker of Parliament Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, Deputy Foreign Minister Mantas Adomenas, Deputy Chancellor of the Government Rolandas Krisciunas, Head of International Relations and EU Group Kestutis Vaskelevicius, and members of Belarusian civil society. In Latvia, Fly met with President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, and other officials for productive discussions about challenges to media freedom in the region.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, traffic to RFE/RL websites from within Russia has increased to record numbers despite significant Kremlin censorship. Both at the war’s start and at key moments, video views from within Russia surged, demonstrating the immense appetite of Russian-language audiences to know the truth. RFE/RL’s award-winning coverage is meeting this demand with extensive reporting on Russian atrocities, conscription, and more.
For decades, the people of Latvia and Lithuania have been enthusiastic consumers of and contributors to RFE/RL’s reporting -- both from RFE/RL’s Latvian and Lithuanian services, which operated from 1975 to 2004, and more recently from Current Time. These new offices mark RFE/RL’s physical return to Riga and Vilnius, where the services maintained bureaus from 1992 to 2004.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 37 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 7 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2021. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.