Briefs

Estonia 13-19 June

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
The Russian-language propaganda portal Baltnews.ee published an article about the Estonian parliament’s statement on the June 1941 Deportation. The story was based on incorrect information provided by a pro-Russian politician from the populist Estonian Center Party—the most popular party among Russian-speaking Estonians. According to the article, the Estonian Parliament refused to recognize Stalinist repression against non-Estonians. 

Object of manipulation: Seti.ee, a Russian-language web portal based in Narva, a city in eastern Estonia near the Russian border.
Date: 15 June 2016
Author: A registered user who uses the pseudonym Koka.

Source of manipulation: Baltnews.ee, a Russian-language propaganda web site which focuses on Estonian news. 
Date: 15 June 2016

False facts or narrative: An article published both by Seti.ee and Baltnews.ee quoted parliamentarian Vladimir Velman—a member of the populist Estonian Center Party (ECP)—claiming that on 14 June, Estonia’s Parliament, the Riigikogu, adopted a statement on the 75th anniversary of the June 1941 Deportation without considering suggestions made by his party.  The ECP argued that, since not only ethnic Estonians but people of other nationalities suffered because of the deportation, the word “Estonians” in the statement should be replaced with the phrase “people in Estonia.” Velman’s comments suggest that the Riigikogu does not accept the fact that non-Estonians as well as ethnic Estonians suffered under Soviet oppression. 

The facts on the ground: On 14 June, the Riigikogu passed a statement to commemorate the victims of the June 1941 deportation. The declaration says: “Today is the 75th anniversary of the tragic day of 14 June 1941, when thousands of people in Estonia were hit by a bloody action of violence by Soviet communist power. On that tragic date, the armed representatives of the occupation power arrested more than 10,000 inhabitants of Estonia under the darkness of night and in the early hours of morning.” The statement was discussed in the Riigikogu’s Constitutional Committee among representatives of all parties, as the rules require. During those deliberations, the ECP suggested that the word “Estonians” in the text be replaced by “people in Estonia.“ Kadri Simson, head of the ECP faction in the 101-member Riigikogu, told the daily newspaper Postimees that all of his party’s suggestions were accepted, with 83 lawmakers voting in favor of the final statement, seven (all from the Center Party) abstaining, and 11 not present.

Techniques:  
  • Providing false facts. It is false that the Riigikogu did not consider ECP’s suggestions. In fact, the parliament revised its.statement at the party’s urging.  
  • Using social media to spread false facts. The Baltnews article referred to Velman’s Facebook post. 
  • Drowning the facts with emotions. Representing the story in such an emotional way that the facts lose their importance.
  • Narrative laundering. This technique, described by Anton Shekvotchov, occurs is where Russian media channels offer the stage and the spotlight to minor Western politicians or pro-Kremlin media channels that confirm and spread a Kremlin-friendly narrative.

Audience: Seti.ee receives about 2,000 daily visitors. This article was read by 829 people. Velman’s Facebook page is followed by 659 people.

Analysis: Russia disseminates propaganda in two ways: “spreading channels” such as RT and “gathering channels” like Baltnews. While “spreading channels” aim to spread propaganda and disinformation globally, the objective of “gathering channels” is to monitor local events and local media, pick up local topics, and modify the topics so that they fit the Kremlin’s narratives. The “gathering channels” don’t target ordinary media consumers but rather other media channels that can pick up a story and spread it further. Therefore, the influence of Baltnews, Ru.balt and Sputnik as gathering channels is greater than their relatively small audience among ordinary media consumers would suggest. The article here was published by Baltnews and spread at least by other five Russian-language media channels.

The main narratives spread by “gathering channels” include narratives about the Baltic states as failed, undemocratic or fascist countries, as well as countries which discriminate against Russians and countries which “create war hysteria.” The article here uses the narrative of Estonia as a “fascist country” and as a “country which discriminates against Russians.”

In this instance the source of the false facts was Estonia’s pro-Russian parliamentarian Vladimir Velman, a member of the ECP Estonian Central Party. In 2007, Velman declared that he would start “fighting” against Estonia. In 2010, Estonia’s Internal Security Service published a report claiming that Velman and the leader of the Center Party, Edgar Savisaar, visited Moscow to arrange a visit to Estonia for oligarch and Putin crony Vladimir Yakunin. At that time, Yakunin was the director of state-owned Russian Railways. During his visit to Estonia, Yakunin promised the ECP €1.5 million during Estonia's parliamentary elections

The ECP is a centrist, populist (and, as described by Russian media, pro-Russian) political party in Estonia with formal ties to Putin’s United Russia party. In 2004, the two parties signed a protocol of shared intentions. The ECP has the support of 77 percent of Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority. In Estonia’s 2015 parliamentary elections, the ECP won 24.8 percent of all votes. It has 27 seats in the Riigikogu. 

Since its founding, the ECP’s leader has been former Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar.  On 17 July 2015, Estonia’s Internal Security Service launched a criminal investigation of Savisaar and six others following accusations of bribery, corruption and money laundering. The service suspects Savisaar of accepting bribes worth hundreds of thousands of euros in 2014 and 2015 on behalf of himself and the ECP. Because of this ongoing investigation, Savisaar was suspended from the mayor’s office on 30 September 2015. In official documents, Savisaar is described as a Russian agent of influence. 

Description of sources: Seti.ee is the Russian-language, non-official web portal of Narva, Estonia’s third-largest city. Located at the eastern tip of Estonia near the Russian border, Narva is home to 62,000 people.  Almost 94 percent of them are Russian speakers, and 82 percent are ethnic Russians. Almost 47 percent of the city’s inhabitants are Estonian citizens, 36.3 percent are citizens of Russia, and 15.3 percent of the population has undefined citizenship. Seti.ee is owned and financed by  Estonian businessman Roman Gribov. Seti.ee was one of the first web portals in eastern Estonia to be directed to a local audience. Most of its content is not original but is based on content from other channels, nor does it clearly distinguish between journalists and non-journalists. Anyone who has an account can use the web portal to publish an article. Most of its authors write under pseudonyms. Seti.ee receives about 2,000 daily visits.

Baltnews.ee is a Russian-owned and Russian-language propaganda site in Estonia. Baltnews news portals were launched simultaneously in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—baltnews.ee, baltnews.lt and baltnews.lv, respectively—in late 2014.  According to the Annual Review of the Estonian Internal Security Service, Baltnews portals are funded by Rossiya Segodnya, a news agency wholly owned and operated by the Russian government. Aleksandr Kornilov, a member of the local Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots and head of the propaganda portal baltija.eu, leads the Estonian operations of baltnews.ee. Media Capital Holding BV, a Dutch-registered company controlled by people related to Rossiya Segodnya, funds the Baltnews project. One of the project’s founders was Vladimir Lepekhin, director of the Eurasian Economic Community Institute, who participates in Russia’s influence-peddling operations in neighboring countries.