An ‘exit form’ supposedly issued by Estonia at the Russian border and shared on social media by pro-Kremlin accounts, including influential Russian state TV propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, has been widely ridiculed by social media users as a poor quality fake due to its obvious errors, nonsensical questions, and poorly machine-translated text in both Estonian and English.
The Estonian Police and Border Guard has confirmed that no such form exists.
It was claimed that a photo of the form circulating on social media was taken by an Estonian citizen travelling to visit relatives in Russia.
The form includes a series of questions about whether travellers support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are in contact with others who do, and are willing to stop visiting Russia and renounce Russian citizenship. It also appears to threaten them with a fine and revocation of an Estonian residence permit if they do not return from Russia within 14 days, although the language is too poorly written to understand exactly.
The image of the form was used by pro-Kremlin social media accounts to describe Estonia as fascist, while also confusing discussion of this fake outbound travel form with discussion of real inbound travel restrictions on Russian citizens. Yet, unlike in Russia, Estonia does not question or prevent travellers leaving the country based on their political beliefs.
Riddled with errors
An official Estonian form would contain the details of the department or agency that issued it, which in this case would be the Estonian Police and Border Guard. This form does not. Instead, its creators have taken the first Estonian state emblem they could find for the header, which is the state seal only used by the President, the Government, and Parliament, which would not have issued a form for travellers.
The next most obvious error is that the form is written in Estonian and then English mostly in brackets (although not always as the form is inconsistently formatted). Yet almost all Estonian state communications are offered in Russian too. This would especially be the case with a form issued to Russian citizens and travellers to Russia, as this one is supposed to be.
Both the Estonian and English text is incredibly poor quality with errors that would not have been written by an Estonian official. For example, date is written as ‘daatum’, gender options are ‘meessoost’ and ‘naissoost’, and yes/no questions are ‘jah/mitte’. For non-Estonian readers, this is like asking people to tick ‘yes’ or ‘not’, which perhaps not coincidentally is how it would be translated directly from Russian using machine translation.
The form asks travellers to fill out their ‘ID card’ and only if they are Estonian, yet travellers to Russia need their passport rather than an ID card. And if information from an ID card was necessary then it would ask for an ‘isikukood’, the unique identifier, which all residents of Estonia possess. One version of the form circulating on social media shows it filled out by someone who states they are an Estonian citizen but the number they filled out next to ‘ID card’ is not a valid isikukood nor any other format of numbers used in Estonian documents. This is the same version of the form that Solovyiev posted but with the personal details blocked out.
Some of the questions are nonsensical, most notably by asking if travellers are ready to renounce Russian citizenship. The implication seems to be that Estonia would want to make Russian citizens stateless or convert them to Estonian citizens. In reality, Estonia has actually made significant progress with the integration of stateless residents and certainly does not want to create more, while Estonian citizenship is open to everyone based on residency and language requirements, but there is no policy to encourage Russian citizens to switch to Estonian citizenship. An alternative explanation is that the person writing the form may be envisioning dual Estonian-Russian citizens being forced to choose one, but Estonia does not permit dual citizenship for naturalised citizens and it is very rare to have both based on birth.
The final paragraph is the most absurd as it references Article 8 of the Estonian Constitution to claim that visitors to Russia can be fined or have their residence permit revoked. Article 8 of the Constitution, which is online here, actually just affirms the rights to Estonian citizenship.
While the form may have had some success reinforcing negative perceptions of Estonia inside Russia among those who already have them, attempts to promote the form internationally across social media, particularly among English speakers, backfired due to the wide ridicule it received, which was helped by Estonian social media users pointing out the errors in Estonian and creating memes to further make fun out of it.
Members of NAFO, a loosely organised movement to counter Kremlin disinformation, bombarded accounts sharing the false form with responses pointing out the errors. The main outcome was to raise greater awareness of the ongoing problem of Kremlin disinformation. The disinformation campaign backfired to such an extent that some of the pro-Kremlin accounts initially promoting the fake form later claimed that it may have been created to discredit them, which in turned earned them additional ridicule.
This was then reported by Estonian media group, Delfi, in both Estonian and Russian language sites, which debunked the form and received an official response from the Estonian Police and Border Guard whose spokesperson Ilmar Kahro said that “there is no such form and there cannot be”.