Propastop tried to figure out whether the defacement of a memorial stone in Kiviõli (small Estonian town) and the subsequent media coverage was a deliberately prepared information operation. We restored the event timeline and gave a comment based on that.
18th of January 2017
Sarkis Tatevosyan, a representative of Kiviõli war and labour veteran and a representative of Russia’s compatriot union, proposed to move a memorial stone from its present location in Raesa village about 15 km to Kiviõli. Tatevosjan justified the removal, among other things, that it would be safer in Kiviõli, as the memorial plaque has repeatedly disappeared from the rock in Raesa. (Slavia.ee contains documents and stories in Russian about the history of the stone). Kiviõli’s municipality rejects the proposal.
9th of May 2017
The memorial stone is opened in a new location, on the plot of Tatevosyan, in Kiviõli. The erratic is 5-6 meters from the street.
16th of May 2017
Sarkis Tatevosyan claims that he discovers at 7.50 am the defacement of the erratic, which had taken place at night. He reports it to the police.
At 2 pm, propaganda channel Baltnews publishes a story about the vandalizing. The story reveals that Tatevosyan contacted and sent the story along with pictures to Baltnews himself. He also contacts Delfi in Russian (Estonian news portal), where the story about the defacement is published at 3.11 pm.
At 6.59 pm, the story published in Delfi is referenced in Russian portal Vzgljad, at 9.56 pm by Lenta.ru. At the same evening, this story is covered in other Russian media channels, like Life.ru, Ren, RT. Although the last channels do not mention Delfi anymore, it is evident from the news structure, that Russian media gets its stories from the Delfi article.
17th of May 2017
At 4.16 pm, the Russian Embassy in Estonia refers the Baltnews article on its Facebook post.
At 8.49 pm, Sputnik publishes an article by Jevgeni Ashihmin, who has visited Kiviõli during the day. The article has new pictures about the site.
18th of May 2017
At 8.48 pm, Sputnik mediates Maria Zahharova’s statement, who is the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. She hopes, that Estonia will conduct a proper investigation of the event, and will punish the offender. Zahharova mentions Russia’s Foreign Embassy in Estonia, that aims to speed up the investigation. She also ties the event with the so-called persecutions, that Fascism fighter face in Estonia. Overall there is an aim to bring out the propaganda subject as if Nazis are favoured in Estonia.
Propastop concludes that the timeline does not indicate the memorial defacement to be a conducted by pro-Kremlin activists. Such a provocation would probably have been arranged immediately after the opening of the stone on 9th of May when there was a focus on the Second World War events.
There is also no indication, as the Russian media would have been aware or prepared for the glacier boulder event. The knowledge of the defacement was attained through other channels, the news was recited in a usual manner, and the journalist from Sputnik arrived two days after.
However, it is noteworthy, how quick the propaganda channels reacted and how Russian governmental institutions were ready to place the event in a broader propaganda context. It appears, as there was a wish to foment yet another memorial conflict, similar to the Bronze Soldier saga in April 2007.
It also seems, as the people behind the movement of the boulder, had a clear aim to provoke a conflict. Presenting of the boulder and also forethought media strategy leads to an impression that there was a wish to create a big event of the incident. A clear indication to make the incident more significant is the fact, that the boulder was not yet cleaned on 18th of May. It was still waiting for the photographers. (See the photo published on slavia.ee web page, where the former Russia’s consul general in Estonia, Dmitri Kazjonnov places flowers by the boulder). It appears that Tatevosjan followed the example of the Nochnoy Dozor/ Nights Watch (a pro-Kremlin activist group, who provoked the Bronze Night conflict in 2007). He was a member of this group and witnessed, how big of a role the media played in making the Bronze Night bigger.
Photos: Screenshots from Slavia.ee and the Russian Foreign Embassy in Estonia web page