Propastop regards November as a rather modest and calm month for ant-Estonian influence activities. Russia remained passive, mostly by the prolongation of familiar propaganda events in various stories on their web of national media channels.
There were few noteworthy stories and our blog has already written about them at length. For example, in the course of 1 week, several channels accusing us of rewriting history and downplaying the „golden Soviet era“ hit Estonia
Topics that were not in November as separate postings can be highlighted, for example the publication of the issue of child soldiers written by the Italian photojournalist in the summer and published by the American newspaper Atlantic as well as this material being also referred to in Estonia by the Russian propaganda lapdog Sputnik. We predicted further developments on this topic in our propaganda horoscope published in August.
A further developing topic is the requesting of registration by the USA of Russian propaganda channels broadcasting in the USA and their contributors. Reuters reported that RT arranged the needed registration on November 13 and continues to deal with the „problem“. As a result Russia has set up a similar registration and reporting obligation for foreign media outlets operating in Russia
The topic of Finland conducting an analysis of possible influence activities from Russia was also published in the October propaganda overview. Postimees wrote that the report published in the media appears to have been biased and the weight given to the article is without basis. Jarmo Mäkelä’s thorough analytical story tries to create clarity in this confusion.
„ Just a youth“ arrested in Estonia
One of the more attention catching cases in the Russian media was the alleged FSB agent detained by KAPO in mid November. This case has received dozens of reports and fills the media every week since his incarceration. Russia has launched a modest campaign using a sympathy story about the persecution of a common young person. The linguist, Urmas Sutrop who writes that „the FSB has realized that the autumn has arrived and that the neighbours from Estonia needed to organize a PR event.“, covered this topic in Delfi. To be perfectly honest it should be pointed out that it is actually the FSB that is attempting to organize a PR event. Neither our Security Police nor the Prosecutor’s office have disclosed details about the detained suspect. The Russian Federation diplomats themselves revealed his identity. Apparently the reason was that, when they became aware of the fact of how „cute“ he was, it was decided to organize a PR event.
Zapad 2017 follow-ups
A separate topic of media coverage in November on Russia was the follow up analysis of the large military exercise Zapad 2017. This was discussed at length in the Postimees, which for example has published the statements of the Lithuanian Minister of Defence, where he gives the impression that the military capabilities of the Russian army has improved significantly and that the operational readiness of the Russian army was now capable of being ready in 24 hours compared to their previous 48 hours. In addition, Postimees has published a long analytical story on the conclusions of the Zapad exercise, which reads: „The post analysis of NATO nations is unanimous that Zapad was a chain of united exercises extending from the Kola Peninsula to the Black Sea, of which only one link was open – Belarus. When the individual links in the chain were united, it became clear that they were practicing how to fight against the next Maiden right up to a nuclear conflict against the West.
Sputnik’s fantasising about defence
In November, Delfi published a long story and an interview with Villem Rooda, who is an Estonian link to the web of Russian propaganda media, a contributor to Sputnik as well as considering himself as a senior Russian military intelligence officer. It is apparent from the story that Sputnik’s expert is a big fibber, whose similarly exaggerating astronaut/intelligence officer/freedom fighter type person one meets occasionally.
Information war in the Estonian media
On the subject of the information war, a number of good stories appeared in November. For example, Edward Lucas published an opinion piece in Postimees on the role of technology, where he wrote: „From the point of view of governance, technology companies are more important than many governments.
Spies act boldly (almost) visibly for all to see, dealing in influence activities and spreading propaganda. Anyone with an internet connection can act as a journalist, publisher or propagandist.
All of these aspects present great challenges to our society. On the other hand, fogginess is not something new. The Cold War was not as clear as we remember it. The western group had horrible dictatorships on their side as well as the so-called communist block was a rhetorical instrument, not reality (Yugoslavia, Albania, China and Romania were among those countries that made different choices in their homeland as to foreign affairs.)“
Karmo Tüür has also focused his opinion pieces on the possibilities that online environments offer to today’s information war, saying: „The nearest to Estonia, the megaloblastic Petersburg troll factory is probably a familiar phenomenon to everyone. An office with constant production of information garbage that in sufficient quantities and after skillful treatment becomes a toxic weapon. Such a weapon through whose influence can manipulate angry young men as „volunteers“ to offer themselves as cannon fodder for the so called Ukrainian People’s Republic. This story unfortunately involves us as well. Quite openly, Russia’s experts write that Moscow reserves the opportunity to encourage separatist tendencies in Europe.
Everyone has heard of cyber hygiene (very simply: do not click on every link!) Then the same way you and your friends and family should be aware of information hygiene. If you see a shiny paper with a piece of candy or a piece of bread, you would not pick it up or let your child swallow it, would you?“
The manipulation of information has also been written in the Postimees Tehnika (Technical) addition, in which they published a story based on the Freedom House report on using social media to repress dissidents. „The manipulation of information in social media was detected in at least 18 different countries during 12 months, including the United States. It was also pointed out that if these united countries (including Russia for example) used such measures primarily to promote their own external interests, then more and more are using social media to influence, monitor and suppress internal political resistance.“
Estonian and Russians as well as Estonia and Russia
Andre Kuzitskin and Ivan Makarov have written in the Postimees about the relations between Estonians and Russians, their differences and Russian ambitions influencing the relations. In an analytical way, these relations have been presented in St. Petersburg and Karmo Tüür has commented on them based on much contra-filled material, in summarizing the material he said: „ The economic sanctions are good for Russia but the Baltic nations are suffering and it will get much worse for them. This briefly summarizes the study presented by the Pribaltika Research Association in St. Petersburg.“
The Russian propaganda industry in self-search.
November also brought two rather unique news items from the Russian nation’s self-search. According to Delfi, the Russian leadership has sent a seven-page instruction document to companies in order to publicize success stories in a positive light. The document indicates which articles are needed. For example new jobs, research achievements as well as new infrastructures must be written about. In the latter case, in particular where the country has been involved in funding. It also shows how stories are to be presented and there are weekly news release deadlines. „ Most people’s lives became more peaceful, more comfortable and more enjoyable,“ is indicated in the first document. „Many similar examples have not received media attention. Our job is to be creative and to choose such themes and stories and offer them to the media.“
Another story, from Postimees talks about a draft law amending the Russian Media Act and the Child Protection Act, which states: „It is prohibited to promote a criminal subculture in the media or social networks, this lies in the dissemination of the socio-cultural values of the criminal world and in portraying the criminal behavior pattern. „Senator Anton Beljakov proposed to give the Russian Consumer Protection Board, Roskomnadzor extra judicial authority to prevent „crime promoting“ websites. The Senator pointed out the fact that it is already forbidden by law to promote suicide, drugs, extremism and substance abuse.
Russia’s hand in Brexit
In November, an analysis was published that casts light on the influence of the Russian social media on the Brexit campaign and referendum. The focus of the analysis is on Twitter, where according to the survey, 156,252 Russian accounts were involved in influencing the Brexit process, on the two days surrounding the actual voting day alone there were close to 45,000 postings from this group.
Photo: screen shot from the publisher’s website