Six conclusions from the missile incident


On August 7, a Spanish allied fighter jet unintentionally fired an air-to-air type missile. According to Propamon’s monitoring robot, it was a record-breaking occurrence for the Russian propaganda media: no other topic on Estonia this year has generated this much press coverage.

It is now over a month since the incident and it is a good time to draw conclusions on how the Kremlin’s propaganda handled the topic.

1. The Propaganda machine responded fast

The missile was fired on August 7. at 15:44

The first announcement of the incident reached the media at 18:57 via a Defence Forces press release.

The first news reached the Russian mass media when Interfax published the news at 19:43

Alexei Pushkov, Chairman of the International Policy Commission of the Russian Federation Council, tweeted on the topic at 20:37. This was the initial text that launched the largely prevalent propaganda rhetoric. The tweet widely influenced the Russian media; the first article appeared at 23:36 in Izvestija. It only took four hours for the „regular news“ to be distorted into a propaganda event and an information war message.

2.The press releases have one main message

The Russian propaganda rhetoric throughout the whole incident was the message that „NATO is dangerous!“ This was the Kremlin’s immediate strategic message and goal for this topic – to deflect the defence alliance away from its neighbouring nations. The main rhetoric was expressed sometimes in headlines, sometimes in commentaries, but always in all articles referring to this incident.  The message was re-affirmed even after active interest in the story disappeared. It was repeated again in a statement issued on 9 August by the Foreign Ministry, as well as in later analyzes.

3.Expressions of the main message are varied

Having received the rhetorical content, the propaganda channels vary the wording of the concrete message. The message of NATO is dangerous!“ would be re-worded for example to: „NATO missile attack“ or „Airstrike against Estonia

  • Speculation, that the missile could hit Russia
  • Story headlines „ I thought the war had begun“: heightening the fears of common people
  • Highlighting commentaries alluding to the danger to Latvian officials: „ Possible retaliation from Russia.“
  • The method can be described illustratively like trolling with fishing lures, where everyone envisions a different aspect to the main rhetoric. It does not matter which version exactly gets the readers attention, as long as the propaganda message is imprinted on the readers’ memory.

4.Other rhetoric’s are also brought to play

One of the strongest secondary propaganda rhetoric’s was „NATO is weak“ which added to keeping the reporting of the incident alive. It was speculated that the missile firing was due to poor training. The propaganda message of an „ inept NATO“ was supported by irony and black humour. An aside rhetoric would be a Russo phobic motive (“ Russia will be blamed for the missile firing“) and conspiracy theories („The appearance of an accidental firing was actually a well planned action“)

5.The incident ends quickly, but an imprint remains

The new record for reports on a topic was during a two-day period.  However, since no new information appeared on the incident, the topic became uninteresting for the media. Only a few follow-up stories reported that the missile could not be found and that allied fighter jets’ overflights are continuing.

In conclusion, thanks to the Russian media, their readership’s recollections of the Rocket incident is that an incompetent –NATO almost started a third world war in Estonia. According to Propastop, the belief that the incident questions the confidence in NATO’s capabilities is incorrect.

6.How do we prevent these types of propaganda rhetoric?

You have to put up our own message, immediately among the first press releases. This ensures that there is an overwhelming favourable treatment of the incident. In this case, the initial information focused on the details and facts of the incident, leaving out the broader meaning of the event. Emphasizing that there was no imminent threat and that the incident was under the control of the Estonian Defence Forces and NATO would have helped to quash the Kremlin’s propaganda rhetoric.


Photos: Ilkka Jukarainen/Flickr/CC; screenshots from the mentioned posted articles.