There has been a lot of talk in public about propaganda against Estonia and its greater or lesser impact. A significantly, lesser amount is mentioned about lobbying, where there are attempts to attack Estonia and its independence, credibility and reputation.
Wikipedia describes lobbying as corridor politics or backdoor politics where there is an attempt at a systematic influence of public decision-makers by an interest group (large companies, business organizations, trade unions, political movements, etc.) in the direction that decisions, (laws, policies, procurements, grants, etc.) would be in conjunction with the interests of this group.
One of the last and somewhat effective lobbying activities was the action that occurred after the suspension of Sputnik Estonia. It was to influence the assessments and positions taken on Estonia in the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Union of European Journalists, the International Union of Journalists, the United Nations and other similar international umbrella organizations.
Estonia fell 3 places in the press freedom index in 2020. One of the reasons for this was Russia’s lobbying activities with the organizations compiling the index.
In the summer of 2019, the decision to restore Russia’s voting rights in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was highlighted as an example of the effectiveness of Russian lobbying activities. The Estonian Member of Parliament Raivo Tamm, who took part in it, said that good lobbying activity brought success to Russia, which managed to persuade the Western representatives. “Russia has worked hard and you have even heard how even Lavrov has been lobbying in different countries.”
In 2014, when the occupation of Crimea had taken place, Margus Kolga described Russia’s lobbying at the UN, when questioned how strong Russia’s lobbying is, he answered that it is quite strong. “I think that Russia’s explanatory work here was significantly larger in intensity and volume than Ukraine’s. They just have more resources. Moreover, the United Nations has classically been an organization where Russia has been a well-known prime player. It is a place where the West or the United States have not really restrained Russia’s activities, unlike other organizations. ”
“Interest groups” lobby
As for the OSCE, the major lobbyists against Estonia are local “activists” already familiar to Propastop readers. The Security Police yearbooks contain several sections on the participation of Estonian “representatives” in shaping the position on Estonia in international umbrella organizations.
For example, KAPO writes: “In 2015, the Kremlin funded the participation of representatives of the NGO Human Rights Information Center (ITC) and MTÜ Vene Kool in Estonia (the NGO Russian school in Estonia) at the annual conference on the implementation of the human dimension held by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw. The participation costs of the ITC representative were also paid from the 29th to the 30th of October at the additional OSCE meeting in Vienna.
Representatives of Russian-funded NGOs or GONGOs perform as “independent representatives of Estonian citizenry” at events and meetings of international organizations. They send comments to the assessments of these organizations that reflect their views on the situations of minorities and human rights in Estonia. If their views were reflected in the reviews mentioned by international organizations, Russia would be able to prove that its criticism is justified by referring to a so-called independent third party. In fact, Russia bases its imaginary accusations on its own fantasies.
The activists of MTÜ Vene Kool Eesti are also active in the activities of the European Federal Federation of National Minorities FUEN. For example, in the summer of 2018, they managed to direct FUEN to draft a resolution showing Estonia in a negative light.
Politicians as lobbyists
Politicians who act for or against issues are in a ways also lobbyists. In 2018, Yana Toom wrote in her blog, “Politics is by nature influencing and lobbying. Not necessarily in the interests of large industrial companies – in the interests of populations, majorities, minorities, cats, dogs… We all are active in influencing, that is our job. ”
In 2017, Propastop wrote about a Czech politician, Jiří Maštálka, a Member of the European Parliament, who intended to submit a resolution to the European Parliament condemning support for fascism in the Baltics and recommending sanctions against those countries.
A wider perspective on lobby activity
In 2016, Eesti Päevaleht wrote short news article about how the Kremlin tried to hire public relations expert Raul Kalev’s PR Company to run a campaign to lift economic sanctions against Russia.
Kalev Stoicescu has written widely about Russian lobbying in 2017, pointing out that Russia’s secret services and organizations also make extensive use of Western lobby groups, essentially turning them into Kremlin influencing agents, although they naturally deny this. “For the most part, the explanation is related to the contractual obligation of lobby groups to promote Russia’s image in order to attract investment, which would be a completely normal lobbying activity. Unfortunately, the activities of the lobby groups used by Russia are inevitably and openly politicized and fully support the achievement of the Kremlin’s political goals. ”
More about Russia’s less visible influence in the world can be found in Chatham House’s 2014 overview “Russia’s influence abroad: non-governmental organizations and propaganda” or in 2019’s article “Share and rule: 10 lessons from Russia’s political influence activities in Europe”.