Estonian Internal Security Service published their annual review for the year 2016 and Propastop will bring out some sections, that will cover Russian influence activities in Estonia.
Demonstration against NATO
NATO’s decision to place additional battle groups in its eastern member countries to counter Russia’s increasing aggression left its imprint on 2016. This was met with an aggressive reaction by the Russian media and politicians, and as usual – reversing cause and effect – an aggressive propaganda campaign was launched attributing the North Atlantic alliance with bad intentions toward Russia. Moscow’s stance was also conveyed by a handful of extremists active in Estonia, who organised an anti-NATO demonstration and a so-called peace march. They did not find much of a following in society, but they met the goal of providing the Kremlin propaganda channels with verbal and photographic material to demonstrate “anti-NATO sentiment in Estonia”.
This endeavour got much air-time in Russian propaganda channels like Sputnik, Baltnews, Rusnod, Ria Novosti, etc. Similar events have been organised also in other places.
Sticking labels on Estonia is also typical. We have noticed a tendency to delegate right-wing extremists from Russia to Estonian events to publicly display Nazi symbols, which leads to media coverage of this “social problem” in Estonia. One of the best examples from last year is the attempted provocation where the Saint Petersburg skinhead Aleksei Maksimov was sent to Estonia to be captured on film as a “local Nazi activist”. Maksimov crossed the border dressed in clothes that covered his arms and legs, but when going to the memorial event for those who fell in the Battle for the Tannenberg Line, he changed into clothes that revealed his neo-Nazi tattoos, including a swastika. The Kremlin-controlled media was naturally eager to pick this up as an example of events in Estonia. As they had to send in an activist from Saint Petersburg to play the role, it showed that the label is hard to stick and the methods suggest desperation.
State Duma visit
At the Russian State Duma elections, the “frozen conflicts expert” Konstantin Zatulin from the distant city of Sochi set up his candidacy in a minor electoral district, and visited the Estonian town of Narva during his campaign. Zatulin, who had been black-listed in a number of countries,5 stated in connection with his Estonian visit that it was common practice in Estonia to repress representatives of the Russian-speaking community, that Estonia maintains a Russophobic stance in its internal and foreign policies, and has discontinued the broadcasting of Russian TV channels at the national level – all false statements that suit the Kremlin. Zatulin’s entire visit was covered by the Russian TV channel Tsargrad6, which is owned by the Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeyev, who is on the EU sanctions list because of the events in Ukraine. He has funded the activities of the Eastern Ukrainian separatists as well as European right-wing extremists. The editor-in-chief of Tsargrad TV is the well-known Russian chauvinist Alexandr Dugin, who is also the founder and leader of the Eurasia Movement.
Russian Association for Baltic Studies gains momentum
Russia’s influence operations against the Baltic states in the field of history intensified at the beginning of 2016. A sign of this development is the foundation of the Russian Association for Baltic Studies (RAPI), which should in the future bring together researchers studying the history and present situation in the Baltic countries. Alexandr Dyukov, leader of the Russian history propaganda agency, Historical Memory Foundation, spoke about the idea of founding RAPI and the need for it already in 2014. The public is being left the impression that the foundation was based on the initiative of researchers and not the promotion of Russia’s foreign political and internal propaganda interests. The Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Lithuania, Alexander Udaltsov, was elected as the honorary chairman of RAPI. RAPI plans to launch its own scientific publishing house and editorial office, which will be led by Professor Gennady Fyodorov of the Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad. In its activities, RAPI uses the typical messages of Russian influence operations: discrimination of the Russian-speaking population, falsification of history, the Baltic states as a problematic region, and so on.
Media alliance against EU and US
In the hope of increased funding, baltija.eu (Kornilov), bfro.be (Belgium, led by Sergey Petrosov) and plan russkoepole.de (Germany, led by Yuri Yeremenko) plant to jointly establish a new media centre to unite Russian propagandists. As a pilot project, the leaders of the above portals signed a cooperation agreement “to combat the anti-Russian information war of the western countries” in Brussels in November 2015. Petrosov and Yeremenko are already active in (social) media, including various virtual groups/communities uniting Kremlin-minded people in the EU. Petrosov has repeatedly stressed publicly the need to enhance cooperation and information exchange between the Kremlin-minded. The project is substantiated by the claim that the EU and USA are creating/developing institutions and media resources to win the favour of Russian-speaking communities (including to successfully integrate them into the society of their country of residence). The Kremlin-minded alliance plans to set up a Russian-language media centre in Europe, consisting of news-sharing and subject-producing networks and a joint multimedia platform. The media alliance is seen as a seemingly decentralised network. It would include the Russian-language news portals in EU countries that would add their own produced news to the internet-based centre for other parties to the alliance to use and spread.
Financing Russia’s media projects
Russian media projects are being created to influence the Russian-speaking people in foreign countries and also the policies of their countries of residence. Although the desired result is often not achieved, such attempts are not being waived but are rather becoming more consolidated. The activities of the Baltnews propaganda portals, which are targeted at Russian-speaking communities in the Baltic states and have been mentioned in earlier annual reviews of the Internal Security Service, are coordinated by several employees of Rossiya Segodnya. They effectively manage the work of the entire portal and the topics it covers. This work is remunerated through front enterprises controlled by Rossiya Segodnya. Alexandr Kornilov, the leader of baltnews.ee and baltija.eu, receives transfers of 11,400 euros every month from tax-free companies. The aforementioned coordinators also regularly communicate recommended topics to the offices of Sputnik, the official sub-division of Rossiya Segodnya. Russia’s messages distributed through the entire network are coordinated in this way. Rossiya Segodnya also obliges the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Baltnews portals to cooperate with the Sputnik offices and to support and repeat the news they publish.
Propastop keeps an eye on Russia’s propaganda channels, and from time to time warns about them. The continuous goal is to expose the funding of their activities.