Another Sputnik is becoming a propaganda weapon


On Thursday, December 17, several publications of the Kremlin’s propaganda media published a story, saying that Estonian residents want to be vaccinated with the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. The starting point of the story is a letter from the Russian Ambassador in Estonia, Alexandr Petrov, to the head of the Estonian Health Board, Üllar Lanno, where he offers the vaccine. “We have received many applications from citizens living in Estonia regarding the possibility of being vaccinated with a Russian drug,” the stories mediate Petrov’s words. Direct links to these stories on the propaganda portals TASS, Regnum, RuBaltic and EADaily can be found on the monitoring robot Propamon website.

Who are these Estonian residents?

Propastop became interested in who might be Estonian residents interested in the Russian vaccine. The Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has announced that the Sputnik V vaccine will not be distributed in Estonia. We discovered that Kremlin-minded Facebook groups managed from Estonia have been sharing information in the autumn, which promoted the Sputnik V vaccine and presented it as a great success story. It is also actively asked why Estonia is not interested in the Russian vaccine. Probably Petrov refers to these active people.

Here are some examples of such posts in the groups Novosti Estonii, Tallintseand Nasha Estonija. You can read here why Propastop calls these groups and their associates the Kremlin’s network of influence.

By the way, Propastop did not find any trace of that letter in the Health Board’s document register.

Structure of the propaganda operation

The structure of the vaccine-related propaganda operation can be seen as follows:

– First of all, the members of the influence network raise the issue on social media, giving the impression of the interest of ordinary people.

– The official then speaks, formulating this as a ‘citizen’s interest’ statement.

– An official’s words are picked up by a publication, making it news. It is especially good if one of Estonia’s own press publications writes the story.

– Finally, the news initiated in this way is amplified in major propaganda channels.

The role of ERR in disseminating the message
The role of Estonia’s own national broadcasting in spreading Petrov’s words also raises questions. The propaganda operation begins on December 17, when it is published in the Russian language ERR news and then quoted by all subsequent reporters.

The problem is not the news itself, but the way in which it is presented. Petrov’s words and propagandistic statements about the interest of the Estonian population are highlighted. The opportunity to build the news from another perspective are abandoned. For example, the title “Russian Ambassador offers Sputnik V vaccine to the Estonian Health Board” would have been much more precise in this case. For some reason, however, ERR preferred a title that supported the Kremlin’s narrative. The editor of the story is Sergei Mikhailov.

Propastop has also written in the past about cases where ERR has helped spread the Kremlin’s messages. In the summer, it was about sharing referendum information suitable for the Kremlin regime. ERR also spread its news in pro-Kremlin Facebook groups.

Read in addition:

Using the coronavirus crisis as an information weapon: Russia presents the protection masks bought by Estonia from China as its own humanitarian aid.

Astroturfing, presenting your messages to the interest of ordinary people.

Images: screenshots of cited articles