The Kremlin election compass

19.02.2019

Who is in the Kremlin’s favour in the Estonian Parliamentary elections? Which political parties and politicians are under the control of our Eastern neighbours? Does the Russian media machine give electoral guidelines to Russian-speaking people living in Estonia through selected news? How much interest at all are the Estonian elections to the Kremlin propaganda media? To answer these questions, Propastop in collaboration with the monitoring company Meedius, carried out a survey on how much Estonian political parties were mentioned in the Russian media.

What exactly was investigated?
The survey was conducted during a three-month period from 05. November to 05. February 2019. During this time, there were 45 mentions of Estonian political parties in the Russian online news services; Keskerakond (the Centre Party), Reformierakond (The Reform Party), SDE (The Social Democratic Party), Isamaa (Pro Patria Party), EKRE, (Estonian Conservative Party) Vabaerakond (The Free Party), Eesti 200 (Estonia 200 Party), Erakond Eestimaa Rohelised (The Green Estonia Party) as well as Elurikkuse Erakond (The Richness of Life Party). The data was collected from the news, stories and articles in which these parties were mentioned by name. The survey did not include into their database situations when Estonian politicians were mentioned in the Russian media but were not associated with a political party. For example, when Jüri Ratas was mentioned as the Prime Minister of Estonia, it was not included in the survey but when Jüri Ratas was mentioned as the head of the Centre Party, it was included in the study. Publications that are known to be associated with Russia’s power elite were reviewed. The Russian government directly owns some of the channels surveyed others through media groups, which are related to Kremlin State-owned companies. The Kremlin owned Russian language propaganda portals in Estonia, Sputnik and Baltnews were also represented in the survey. The study focuses on internet web portals and does not reflect the content of Russian TV channels. The mention of Estonian political parties in television shows came into the survey when the TV channel put it on their portal sites as a news brief.

How many articles where there?
In total, Estonian political parties were mentioned in 564 news items in three months. Estonian political parties were mentioned the most by ee.sputniknews.ru (204 articles), baltnews.ee (93) as well as the news agency news.rambler.ru (82). Of all of the articles reviewed, 2/3 came from these sites. Of the major Russian news agencies and portals, RIA Novost (13 articles), Komsomolskaya Pravda (11), Rubaltic (9), TASS (9) ja Regnum (7) wrote the most on Estonian political parties.

Who was mentioned most?
EKRE (263 articles) and Keskerakond (260 articles) were mentioned the most. The Sotsiaaldemokraat Party took third place with (215).

The next groups were Reformierakond 179, Isamaa 175 and Eesti 200 with 150 mentions.

The groups least mentioned were Vabaerakond (64), Erakond Eestimaa Rohelised (31) and Elurikkuse Erakond (23).

Who were the politicians who were most likely to present their views in the articles under review? (In media analyzes, these people are called agenda setters, their position is dominant in the article, either in the title or in the first half of the article). Jüri Ratas (34 articles) was mentioned the most, followed by Kristina Kallas (25) and Mart Helme (19), Yana Toom (11), Jaak Madisson (10).

In photos Jüri Ratas (27 photos) was predominantly depicted in the articles followed by a large gap was Mart Helme and Kersti Kaljulaid 9,  Yana Toom 8 and Sven Mikser with 6 photos.

Who was mentioned positively and who negatively?
In order to get an overview of in what light the Estonian parties are depicted, the tonality of the articles was also examined in the news published in January. Usually, neutral mentioning’s are prevalent in surveys, which do not directly approve or disapprove the selected political party.

The most positive was the reporting of Keskerakond (25% of the articles were positive and 6% critical) Keskerakond was the only party where positive news dominated over negative comments.

Eesti 200 received the most negative coverage (39% negative vs 2% positive). Isamaa (17% vs 0%), EKRE (17% vs 3%), Reformiaerakond (12% vs 1%), Vabaerakond (13% vs 4%) and Sotsiaaldemokraat (7% vs 4%) led the majority of critical articles.

The Rohelised and Elurikkuse parties were all neutral with no positive nor negative comments.

Keskerakond (Center Party) was mentioned in a positive context in the news about the proposal to proclaim the Orthodox Christmas as a public holiday, with criticism of the society disrupting poster campaign (active spokesperson, Raimond Kaljulaid), the Keskerakond’s percentage of support as well as Yana Toom’s stance for the Russian-speaking residents. It was negative with, Keskerakond’s Jürgen Ligi as well as Dmitri Klenski’s opinion stories, where the political party was accused of hypocrisy when representing the Russian-speaking population.

EKRE (The Conservative Party) has received a lot of mention in relation to meetings against the migration pact. In a negative tone, the party’s election program, the unwillingness of other political parties to co-operate with EKRE was criticized, the party having 264 individuals with existing criminal records, Ruuben Kaalep’s fake accounts in social media.

EKRE was positively mentioned in three articles in January, in connection with the wish to declare the Orthodox Christmas a public holiday and possible future co-operation with Igor Gräzin, who stepped out of the Reformerakond.

Sotsiaaldemokraat’s (Social Democrats)  were the most prominent in the second half of November, when a lot was written about the chasm caused by different opinions on the migration pact and a possible government crisis due to it. The party is mentioned in a negative connection with Sven Mikser because of the criticism of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Estonian citizenship policies as well as Andres Anvelt’s resignation as Minister of Internal Affairs (references from the Estonian media) and previous party internal tensions. In articles with positive tonality (a total of four stories), Jaak Allik introduced Baltnews to the party election program, political scientist, Yevgeni Golikov acknowledged SDE’s efforts to unite Estonian and Russian speakers, the Social democrats plan to raise the minimum income was discussed, as well as easing up the acquisition of full Estonian citizenship for the so called grey pass holders, an idea proposed by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Katri Raik.

Eesti 200 (Estonian 200) had very passive coverage in the Russian media until 07. January, when the party’s posters at the Hobumaja street car stop received a lot of attention. Mostly, the reports were of a negative nature. However, articles in which the positions of party leader, Kristina Kallas on the separation of the two communities were represented can be considered neutral. Despite the negative attention to the event, the relatively unknown Kristina Kallas was able due to the posters become a well-known individual. As an agenda setter she was ranked 2nd among Estonian politicians after Jüri Ratas. Positive coverage was limited to two articles in which a relatively newcomer to the party, businessperson Einar Visnapuu, stated that „ Eesti 200 speaks of things openly and honestly“.

Reformierakond (Reform Party) criticizing articles dealt with Igor Gräzin withdrawing from the party, past fraud in internal elections, the transfer of Russian-language schools to Estonian- language studies. They also wrote in a negative when reformierakond’s leader was Prime Minister. Positive news was a story that said the party was the most popular in Estonia.

Isamaa (Pro Patria) was outstanding in that there was no positive news about this party. Negatively, the party was written in favour of abolishing Russian-language education, disagreeing with SDE on the migration pact question, supporting the nomination of Manfred Weber as President of the European Commission, the activities of Urmas Reinsalu (who is named as one of the biggest Russophobes in Estonia) and Tarmo Kruusimäe’s call to stop communicating with Estonian Russians in Russian.

In conclusion
As a result of the survey, it can be said that the Kremlin media is not too interested in the political parties and elections in Estonia. The lion’s share of reporting on Estonian topics comes from the local Kremlin- affiliated propaganda channels Sputnik and Baltnews. Russia’s big news channels publish news about Estonian political parties and the electoral landscape about ten times in three months, which makes it less than one article per week. Much of the channels surveyed were limited to one or two mentions during the observed period.

Still, the reports show clear sympathies and antipathies. Two parties, Keskerakond and EKRE are clearly written about the most. One is portrayed predominantly in a positive way and the other negatively. The other major parties are also spoken about in a negative tone, but much less than the two mentioned above.

Provisionally, the survey summary can be considered as Moscow’s instructions to Estonian voters.

You can download the research materials here (in Estonian, English and Russian)

If you would like additional commentary on how the survey was conducted, send a letter to propastop@gmail.com.