Estonia - 15-21 January 2016

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The main focus of disinformation and propaganda from last week was the inquiry report of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
There was another case from earlier of this month about “Nikolai Patrushev´s” plan to “send the troops to Baltics” which turned out to be fake. 

1. The Litvinenko case 

There were two aspects that need to be mentioned concerning the coverage of Litvienko inquiry in Estonia. 

First, how Vremja, the main news program of Pervõi Kanal (First Channel, main information channel for Russian minority in Estonia) covered the story. Almost all methods of disinformation were used: context creating, diminution, ridiculing, discrediting, context change, narrative laundering, denying, usage of terms which confirm Kremlin’s narrative, misquoting, conspiracy theory and absurd.
Second, there was a noticeable difference of the news coverage between the media channels based in Estonia and media channels based in Russia. 

Creating the context

On 21.01, the day when the inquiry report was made public, it was main news of most of the international news channels. In Vremja , remarkably, the news about inquiry report had not featured first, not the second, but in the sixth place. Remarkable was not only the coverage the news itself, but also how the context was created.

For the first, Vremja aired five minutes coverage of anti-EU protests in Moldova and a news about how the journalists of Pervõi Kanal were denied the access to the country. For the second, there was a story about a situation on currency market, and for the third, a long, 15 minutes coverage of Vladimir Putin´s meeting with the representatives of Russian scientists to work out new strategy of scientific developments as an aspect of national security. After that there was the story about an accident with a little boy and the story of new developments concerning 13-year old Russian girl who was “raped” in Berlin. 

With the first five items of news, the messages sent to the public were: 1. People in Europe would rather choose Russian than European way, but Europe tries to hide it by restricting press freedom 2. Current weakening of Ruble is a temporary phenomenon and the situation in currency market will stabilize 3. Vladimir Putin is concerned on national security, makes his decisions on democratic basis, increase the budget of scientific developments 4. Video of the little boy with burned face influences the emotionality of the audience 5. German denies that the incident with 13-year old Russian girl took place and covers up the facts to hide German problems with immigrants. Ergo, Western government structures are not trustworthy, especially when it’s about Russia or Russians.
These five news created the context to the coverage of Litvinenko´s inquiry report and the influence of the coverage will thus be analyzed according to this context.

Covering the news

Main messages:

Diminution. Litvinenko inquiry was the sixth news in Vremja, which gave a signal that this is not important enough to mention as a real news but more like a curious incident. 

Discrediting and denying. Since the inquiry report used words like “probably” and “possibly”, it can’t be taken seriously; the motive for the inquiry was completely political; it was not even Theatre of the Absurd, but Theatre of Shadows – whole process took place secretly and behind the curtains; conclusions were made based on nothing; Russia had no possibility to present its arguments; the inquiry was not objective and balanced; the facts are manipulated. 

Narrative laundering. John Laughland, Director of Studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, British Eurosceptic whose views match the Kremlin's, was used in the news commenting on the report, saying that there is more speculations and conspiracy theories than proofs. 

Ridiculing. John Laughland said in the comment that the level of the arguments was extremely low and the findings were based on speculation, so the inquiry report might as well claim that Putin himself was in a restaurant in Piccadilly, disguised as a Japanese - because we all know that Mr. Putin likes to judo. Such was the level of legal reasoning used in the conclusion. 

On 24.01 Voskresnoje Vremja (Sunday’s Vremja), covered the inquiry report and used few additional methods of disinformation. 

Changing the context of the quote:

Voskresnoje Vremja  referred to Der Spiegel, stating that the judge did not succeed in finding any new evidence, and, according to the magazine "Der Spiegel", decided to make his own conclusions based on the logical chains. Actually, Der Spiegel said this only in the context of Putin´s involvement in the poisoning , not in the context of whole report.
Voskresnoje Vremja stated that just as well “any court in Moscow can accuse British Prime Minister Cameron of the involvement in the murder of Berezovsky and declare him wanted.“

Usage of terms:
Instead of “poisoning” or “murder”, Voskresnoje Vremja used “mysterious death“.

Conspiracy theory:
Voskresnoje Vremja claimed that there is a connection between the Litvinenko´s case and the case of MH17. “What is the connection between the Malaysian Boeing and the mysterious death in London of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko? It seems that there is none, neither logical nor legal; these two events are not linked. But this is so only if we talking about normal human logic and the classical terms of law and rights. However, there is also such a thing as political expediency, in which, as it turns out, “everything is possible.”

As a conclusion, there were stated that both Litvinenko´s case and the case of MH17 were needed in order to start “anti-Russian hysteria”. 

Coverage by Estonian media

While Estonian Russian-speaking minority got the information of Litvinenko´s case mainly from Vremja, Estonian media was more balanced. Even though almost all aspects of Kremlin´s viewpoints were mentioned , it was difficult to take these seriously.

Nevertheless, there was an opinion article published in Eesti Päevaleht, Estonian daily newspaper. It was titled „On pedophilia of Putin“ , and the author is Linnar Priimägi, who has close connections with Estonian Center party (Keskerakond) (which is known by spreading pro-Kremlin narratives and which leader Edgar Savisaar was named by Estonian Internal Security Service as Moscow's “agent of influence“ ). In the article, Priimägi states few Kremlin´s arguments which are already familiar (the report was full of “probably-s” and “possibly-s”; Litvinenko was a traitor), but he also picks up the accusation of pedophilia against Putin. He writes that the accusation is part of propaganda war, but also a sign of lack of education. He explains that Putin kissing of a little boy on the stomach was misinterpreted because of cultural differences. The word живот means „stomach“ in Russian, but in Church Slavonic it means „life“. Therefore Putin´s kiss must be interpreted as a „kiss of life“, not as a sign of pedophilia. It was a symbolic act, blessing for the Young Russia, political declaration.

(Unfortunately, Putin himself didn’t see it that way. In 2006, Putin said to BBC that kissing of a boy on the stomach was just a spontaneous gesture of affection .)

The story was commented 72 times, most of the comments were skeptical towards Linnar Priimägi´s explanation.  

2. The case of upgrading the statement: Patrushev and “sending troops to Baltics”

There was an interesting case of disinformation from earlier this month where the quotes of the interviewee were used correctly but the interviewee was changed. As a result, the importance of the statement increased remarkably.

On 2nd January, published an interview titled „Expert: Putin should send troops to Latvia“ . The “expert” was not named, but since the interview started with quotations from Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Federation Security Council, it was easy to get the impression that the interviewee was also him. 

The “expert” said in the interview that:
-  if NATO supports Ankara, the Russian invasion to the Baltic states would be logical answer, and Baltic States will be occupied.
 - if Poland will be involved in the conflict in Ukraine, it will give Russia the reason to enter the Baltic States.

The article was referring to Nikolai Patrushev´s interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta , but as appeared, Patrushev didn’t say a word about the intention to send the troops to Baltic States. 

Estonian journalist Argo Ideon contacted with Chief Editor of Vladislav Uzhulis to ask who was the quoted „expert“. Vladislav Uzhulis reassured it was Nikolai Patrushev. 

In fact, the quoted expert was not Patrushev but Mikhail Alexandrov from Center for Military and Political Studies, and the source of the quotations was Svobodnaja Pressa (Free Press)  he gave an interview at the end of last year.

After informing Chief Editor of Vladislav Uzhulis about the real source of the quotations, changed the article . But the disinformation circled in social media for many days. 

3. Other cases

As usually, there were many other cases of disinformation and propaganda in Estonian media during last week: