Kremlin media conspiracy theories on the sinking of the Estonia


Last week, the topic of the Estonia’s sinking reached the media again. The story of the ship that sank in the Baltic Sea in 1994 was revived on the anniversary of the disaster, on September 28, 2020, in a series of documentaries, which appeared on the Discovery Channel. In a six-part mini series “Estonia – a find that changes everything” by the Swedish journalist Henrik Evertsson, a large hole can be seen in the wreck of the Estonia lying on the seabed, the existence of which the public had not been told about previously.

New facts raised old doubts that not all of the circumstances of the Estonia’s demise had been explained. However, Margus Kurm, a former head of the Estonian Commission of Inquiry and a former public prosecutor, made the most powerful statement. In interviews with ETV Pealtnägija and Postimees, Kurm said that the hole was caused by a collision with a Swedish submarine and that this was the cause of the Estonia’s sinking.

This sensational statement can be considered the start of a true conspiracy theory, although Kurm does not provide any solid evidence backing his statement. He relies only on his own opinion and speculates on the contradictory facts of the Estonia’s story.

Propastop sees Kurm’s interviews as part of a campaign to increase interest in the film. Kurm is not an independent bystander or expert, but has collaborated with the filmmakers and is also involved in the film.

Propaganda media perspective
Contributing to the spread of conspiracy theories and information confusion is one of the Kremlin’s propaganda media strategies; we will look at how the Russian press reacted to the issue. The overview is based on the data of the monitoring robot Propamon.

On September 28 and 29, the Kremlin covered the news in a neutral way, writing about new facts that have emerged in connection with the film. However, the Swedish submarine theory was already mentioned in the headlines.

On 30 September, the Swedish submarine is already firmly in the headlines. One of the most important Russian news agencies, TASS, headlined the story with “The Swedish Submarine is Guilty”, placing a question mark at the end of the sentence, which did not change the content of the message.

MK headlines its news with “Estonia collided with a submarine. Russia has not yet been blamed. „The publication seems to assume that Russia will be blamed for the incident, thus apparently trying to ridicule all the recent accusations against the Kremlin, such as the poisoning of Navalnõi.

As the days pass, several more articles appear in the Estonian media questioning the theory of the Swedish submarine. For example, the analysis published by researchers explains why the hole shown in the film cannot be the cause of a submarine collision or the cause of the Estonia’s rapid demise.

In contrast, in the Kremlin’s propaganda media, the conspiracy theory is becoming more entrenched.

On October 1, Rubaltic continues to paint Russia as the worldwide-perceived culprit. In the story, “Estonia collided with a submarine. Russia has been made a suspect” another conspiracy theory is put into place, according to which the ship was sunk by Russian special services to prevent Soviet military equipment from reaching the West.

On October 2, Vzgljad writes, “a Swedish submarine is suspected of causing a major maritime disaster”. The story deals with Sweden hunting Soviet and Russian submarines due to their fears.

It seems that instead of truth and clarity, people living under the influence of the Russian media are once again offered a propagandistic message and disinformation: a Swedish submarine caused the sinking of the Estonia and the event is another episode in a series of unfounded accusations against Russia.

The Estonian media, which spread Kurm’s statements without any critic, can also be blamed for spreading the conspiracy theory in the media. For example, Propastop does not understand why media concerns did not employ their fact-checkers to test the legitimacy of Kurm’s allegations.

You can also read more about Estonia’s conspiracy theories in a thematic Wikipedia article.

Images: screenshots of the articles referenced in the story.