Aivo Peterson received 11,507 votes: a disappointment for some, a relief for others


ALREADY A YEAR AND A HALF IN TALLINN PRISON. ‘Please vote for Aivo Peterson, then you will help at least two children get their father back!’ Aivo Peterson appeared as a martyr in a pre-election clip. Source: YouTube, screenshot.

“People of all Estonia! I am not afraid to say this – people of the whole world! I am Aivo Peterson, who has been kept in complete isolation in Tallinn Prison for a year and a half,” began candidate number 101 in his address to voters in a video clip published on YouTube on Friday evening.

The voice of the sole candidate from the Koos party was likely recorded just before the elections, but the video footage was taken years ago at the Maarjamäe Memorial Complex for deportees, between two tall black walls. At the beginning of the clip, the video was so well edited that Peterson’s mouth moved in sync with the text.

“I kindly ask you to go vote in the name of Koos!” Peterson’s thirteen-minute-long video ended with this plea. While making the appeals, the man was sitting by the black memorial wall, where the names of all the Petersons deported from Estonia are engraved.

“By doing so, you will help bring a father of two children home. I very much hope for that. Let this time have a common denominator of truth, justice, and humanity – Aivo Peterson! I believe that humanity and the future of Estonia have a common denominator. Go and please write (on the ballot) number 101! /…/ Today, we cannot be selfish, we must be together – Together! The speed at which peace comes depends on each person, peace within Estonia, but also the time when peace comes to distant Ukraine, which also deeply troubles my heart.” (Due to poor sound quality and Peterson’s awkward Russian, Propastop does not guarantee the accuracy of the translation.)

In the background of candidate 101’s speech, video footage of his previously organized political actions played. Throughout the video, there were subtitles in both Estonian and Russian: “Koos. A voice for peace in the European Parliament.”

With such an emotionally impactful final push, Aivo Peterson’s unusual election campaign, conducted from behind bars, came to an end. (Propastop published a more detailed overview of this last week.) By election night, the martyrdom-emphasizing clip of Peterson, released on Friday evening, had been viewed 16,000 times on YouTube.

READERS’ POLL IN РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ЭСТОНИЯ: Readers were directed to vote for four candidates from Koos and the Centre Party. To find representatives from other parties, one had to open the list and scroll down.
Source: Facebook, screenshot.

Unfortunately, the clip did not go viral, as it was not shared by the larger Russian-speaking Facebook groups Таллиннцы (Tallinners, 55,000 followers) and РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ЭСТОНИЯ (Russian-speaking Estonia, 57,000 followers). The media either did not notice it or chose to ignore it, even though Peterson’s only video message smuggled out of prison deserved to make the news.

Peterson Panic Before the Elections

On Saturday, the SALK foundation caused a media panic by pointing out that the number of early voters in Ida-Virumaa was unusually high compared to the previous European Parliament elections. By election night, it became clear that although voter turnout in Ida-Virumaa had increased by 9%, it still remained the lowest in Estonia.

In the Riigikogu elections in March 2023, Peterson received 3,968 votes in Ida-Virumaa, but this year he received only 3,643. Across all of Estonia, Peterson individually collected 11,507 votes, which is 3.1% of all votes.

Aivo Peterson is a propaganda product with the primary goal of testing the demand for a pro-Kremlin political force in Estonia. Its second goal is to provide Putinist voters with a safe way to anonymously express their sentiments at the ballot boxes. The third goal was to create instability in Estonian society through Peterson’s electoral success and to systematically increase this instability.

While the results of the Riigikogu elections suggested that there was a demand for the emergence of such a political force, the European Parliament elections did not confirm this.

A politician who conducted a thorough street campaign in Ida-Virumaa described Peterson’s potential voters to Propastop as follows: “These are frightened people who fear war. They want an end to anti-Russia sanctions and the reopening of the border. Peterson promises them all of this.”

However, according to Propastop’s source, many voters in Ida-Virumaa are protest voters who are dissatisfied with the government’s policies and their own situation. “One person told me in Sillamäe: we are your домашние русские (literally translated as domestic Russians), referring to the Russian expression домашние животные (domestic animals). These people in Ida-Virumaa are not satisfied with the government or their situation.”

However, as the results of the European Parliament elections showed, the majority of Russian voters in both Ida-Virumaa and Tallinn remained loyal to the Centre Party, even though the party’s chairman, Mikhail Kõlvart, shares the government’s stance on the war in Ukraine.

A disappointment for Putin, a relief for Europe

As Propastop recently pointed out, Vladimir Putin would prefer a fragmented and ineffective European Parliament. The election results in Estonia strengthen the Parliament’s effectiveness, as six out of seven representatives belong to three mainstream factions: the conservatives, the social democrats, and the liberals. The only exception is Jaak Madison from EKRE.

As the pan-European election results showed, President Putin has reason to be disappointed with the outcomes. Before the elections, significant success was predicted for far-right parties, many of which maintain relations with Putinist Russia despite the war in Ukraine. However, mainstream parties achieved a solid result, with preliminary figures indicating around 400 out of 720 seats. This provides a good basis for forming a reliable coalition of the three mainstream parties – the right-wing, the social democrats, and the liberals – to lead the European Parliament for the next five years.

Russia attempted to undermine the European Parliament elections through various disinformation campaigns, but overall, their impact was minimal. According to EUvsDisinfo, disinformation spreaders both from within and outside the EU aimed to undermine the reliability of the election process, democratic processes in general, and to create division and polarization in Europe. The authors of disinformation spread false information about how to vote, discouraged citizens from voting, or tried to sow division and polarization before the elections. Sometimes, this involved flooding the information space with a large amount of false and misleading information, aiming to hijack public discourse.

Disinformation often targets various European policy areas: support for Ukraine, the European Green Deal, and migration. High-profile politicians are frequently the targets of information manipulation campaigns. Kremlin campaigns have particularly sought to malign French President Emmanuel Macron, as his role in supporting Ukraine has significantly increased in recent months. The Kremlin’s vindictiveness is exemplified by a statement from State Duma Deputy Chairman Pyotr Tolstoy, who claimed that France is led by perverts because Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is openly gay and part of Macron’s “circle.”

Disinformation spreaders used networks of fake accounts and fake or forged media outlets to manipulate the information environment. Recent revelations by the European External Action Service and the authorities of EU member states include operations such as False Facade, Portal Kombat, and Doppelgänger.