Investigative journalism illuminates the inner world of the Kremlin propaganda machine
On August 29, Postimees released Holger Roonemaa’s story in which, based on documents, the daily workday of Russian propaganda portals in Estonia was featured. On August 31, a follow-up article was released on the activities of internet trolls.
This is a demonstration of strength on the part of investigative journalism, which provides data on the information war against Estonia on an entirely new level. So far, the work of the Kremlin’s propaganda publications has been primarily written about in the KAPO yearbook, where the analysis has mostly not been backed up. We have heard opinions on internet trolls but so far have not had any concrete supportive material on them.
This time the stories not only claim but also back up their allegations with documentation. Papers and extracts from the internet are derived from the criminal case files of the former executives of Baltnews. Moreover, the case has been distributed internationally: the same story has been published simultaneously in several publications including in Russian and English.
Propastop has written a short summary of the main conclusions of the series of articles, so that people that do not read Postimees can get an overview of the incident. You can find links to the articles at the end of this posting.
What did we find out?
Propaganda channels in Estonia are financed from Moscow
- Baltnews was funded by the Russian government-owned media management company, Rossija Segodina
- The money that Baltnews received came from Kremlin holding companies registered in Europe: Media Capital Holding (Holland), Barsolina Ventures (Cyprus), SPN Media Solutions (Serbia).
- Baltnews has received in this way 91 400 euros (2014) and 136 800 euros (2016) in monthly installments. It is likely that similar amounts of money were received from Russia in 2015 and 2017.
- Other Russian propaganda channels in neighbouring countries are financed under the same scheme: Baltnews portals in Latvia and Lithuania as well as RIA Novost news agency in Ukraine.
Topics and discussions as well as concepts come from Moscow
- In the financing agreement, the amount of content was stipulated (70-500 news stories per month and 10-50 analysis every month with at least two expert opinions) as well as the length of the stories (10-100 words).
- Weekly work was carried out according to the list of topics presented to Baltnews by the Rossija Segodnaja employees. A plan containing three to five disruptive and causing suspicions type topics were sometimes recommended other times obligatory.
- Rossija Segodnja employees, Aleksandr Svjazin, Liana Minasjan, Jasna Nagdalijeva and Dmitri Lanin, shared the ongoing orders.
- The money was paid based on reports of the previous month provided by Baltnews to the holding companies. The reports included the headlines of the ordered stories and sometimes the number of clicks.
The work on Propaganda channels is coordinated
- The similar topics appeared at the same time in Baltnews and the second Rossija Segodnja propaganda portal, Sputnik. Propaganda messages are likely still coordinated in a similar way today.
The amount of readership of propaganda channels is inflated
- The managers of Baltnews purchased fake clicks to boost the readership numbers of the propaganda portal. Read Propastop’s story about the official readership numbers of propaganda channels in Estonia.
There are paid pro-Kremlin internet trolls operating in Estonia
- The follow-up story demonstrates how pro-Kremlin internet commentary ordering takes place. Documents show an example of an incident where the Baltnews executives order fake commentaries from the baltija.eu propaganda portal.
- Fake commentaries can be ordered from the Russian language troll factory. The story does not reveal where the factory is located and whether it is the notorious St. Petersburg Troll farm.
- When ordering up to 50 commentaries, the service cost 5.50 euros in 2015 or 11 cents per commentary.
- This amount of commentaries would take one to two individuals writing under at least five different fake subscriber names. The fakes subscribers of the website, comment on their own but also interact in dialogues with one another playing out various radical opinions.
The articles were prepared by journalists and publishers as an international cooperation: Holger Roonemaa (Postimees), Inga Springe (Re:Baltica, Latvia) Šarunas Cerniauskas and Paulius Gritenas (15min.lt, Lithuania) Vesna Radojevic (KRIK, Serbia), Vlad Lavrov (Ukraine), Buzzfeed (USA).
The Postimees article on Baltnews’ daily workday and the story on buying fake commentaries (paid articles).
The Postimees Russian-language edition: The Baltnews article and the fake commentaries article.
The Re:baltica portal article in English and in Russian
The Buzzfeed article (in English).
Propastop’s posting on the Baltnews propaganda network.
Photo: Michael Coghlan / Flickr / CC