The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, USA and Italy – this is the long list of countries that have had their elections interfered by Russia in recent years. The Kremlin has also influenced the elections of Latvia, Sweden and Finland, where prior to the Presidential elections of last year, the newspapers published a list made up by experts of possible influencing methods.
On March 3rd Estonia will elect members of Parliament and on May 26th members of the European Parliament. It is prudent to ask now, whether the Kremlin will interfere with our elections? There is not much to discuss about it, therefore Propastop decided to list possible methods of turning the election around to suit their purpose.
Why does the Kremlin wish to influence the elections?
According to the Gerassimov doctrine, information warfare against other countries is a normal way for Russia to communicate with its neighbours. The same strategic goals that are sought day to day by propaganda and information influencing are also sought by interfering in elections.
Objectives include for example, inurement of influence or deflection and strife between NATO and EU members and allies as well as causing confusion and uncertainty in society.
Objectives of influencing elections
The main goal of the Kremlin is to support a beneficial political structure for themselves. No less important is the damaging of non-beneficial political structures as deemed by the Kremlin. The overall goal is to cause confusion in society and undermine the credibility of democratic institutions and leaders, as well as questioning the legitimacy of the elections. A separate topic would be the breakdown or deepening the gap between different ethnic groups in Estonia.
Possible methods of influencing elections
Communication in the Kremlin channels
The media channels owned or under the control of the Kremlin can be directed into supporting one political structure or being hostile to another. There is a reason to be suspicious if in these channels we see a politician or political party being strongly supported while others are not mentioned or strongly put down. A good example is a recent discussion on the PBK channel where the Kremlin associated media was able to show on TV, politicians associated with just one party or a Baltnews- related case where clicks were purchased for broadcasting the story of one political party. Russia’s propaganda channels can also independently discuss the issue of election fairness, for example raising the question of the unreliability of digital elections and thereby undermining the general credibility of the elections. In addition, there is the possibility of vigorously pushing for opposition and dissent, amplifying and spreading them as well as bringing a disruptive agenda to mainstream media during the election period.
The leaking of compromising information
If Russia has harmful information about a candidate or political party unsuitable for the Kremlin, then it is possible that it would be leaked to the media. Based on experience, this leaked compromising information may be true or totally fabricated. Scandalous information published in the Russian media can also find its way to Estonian or Western media.
The activity of trolls
As we have seen from the materials on the case concerning Baltnews, the activities of the Russian funded trolls operating in Estonia’s information space are well documented. It is possible to see the activation of these trolls even before the upcoming elections in Estonia, where biased discussions in internet commentaries and social media fulfill the Kremlin’s goals. There has been confirmation in the Russian language environment of troll activity and there are indications that they may also be acting in the Estonian language media.
One possibility is to influence the elections through high up officials that are connected to the Kremlin, who receive guidance and material resources from behind the border and propose positions favourable to the Kremlin. It is important to distinguish the Kremlin influencers from people who simply have different political views without getting directions and resources from the Kremlin. The role of the press is to highlight the truth: the labeling of someone is not a good tool, simply unacceptable demagoguery, you need to show proof. Useful idiots can be added here as well – quoting Kivirähk „ the fact that a person talks very nationalistically, does not mean that he is actually a nationalist“.
The concealed purchasing of advertisements on Social Media
When buying an ad in traditional media, it is easy to follow; it can be just as easily hidden in Social Media. Behind the border, it is possible to support local polarizing messages by purchasing amplification of material that is already circulating. In this way, the Kremlin can support the amplification of messages from beneficial political structures in Estonian language Social Media, where otherwise it would be difficult for Russia to reach this audience.
Possible provocations during the campaign period may also be considered influencing election information. They can boost Kremlin propaganda messages and split up society. The issues of provocation can be all sorts of disputes about history, memorial monuments, tolerating fascism and the discrimination of the Russian-speaking population, overall everything that helps to keep the focus away from democratic electoral debates. A Finnish analysis team also saw a terrorist act as one of these, which could also be considered a type of provocation.
There are even more possibilities to intervene in Estonian elections from behind the eastern border, therefore we invite readers to let us know about all possible observations. We will investigate all cases and if there are any doubts, we will list them in the blog.