Briefs

Estonia - 15-21 August 2016

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Pro-Kremlin propaganda website Baltnews.ee suggested that interviews with former prime ministers of Estonia shown on the government’s Russian-language TV channel ETV+ on 20 August—the Day of the Restoration of Independence—were an anti-Russian, one-sided attempt to rewrite history. That claim followed a Facebook post by an Estonian journalist six hours before the interviews aired, meaning he knew nothing about their tone or content.  

Event: In a 20 August article, “Russians’ Estonia after 1991: Facing God’s judgment, maybe Mart Laar should repent?” the pro-Kremlin propaganda website Baltnews.ee featured the Facebook post of an Estonian Russian-language online journalist. In it, he suggested that interviews with several ex-prime ministers of Estonia broadcast by the country’s Russian-language TV channel ETV+ on the Day of Restoration of Independence were an attempt to rewrite history.  In the interviews, the former government leaders reminisced about their time heading the cabinet and the first years of Estonia’s restored independence. The Baltnews story suggested that since the interviews show only Estonia’s side of events that took place during the failed putsch against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991 and thereafter, the program cannot be considered historical truth but rather “myth-making” and the creation of a “a new historical reconstruction.” Moreover, the Facebook post that Baltnews cited in its article was made on 20 August at 12:26 a.m., nine hours before the first interview was aired. That means it was written without actual knowledge about the tone or content of the interviews.

The false fact or narrative: Both the Baltnews.ee article and the Facebook post suggest that the concept of “historical truth” is completely subjective and depends entirely on the views of the narrator. Therefore, the fact that only pro-Estonian interviews were broadcast by ETV+  supposedly means the story was necessarily biased and inaccurate.

Reality on the ground: The ETV+ interviews included a variety of views, including those of Edgar Savisaar, the pro-Moscow leader of the Estonian Center Party (ECP). According to Russian media, ECP is a pro-Russian political party with formal ties to the United Russia party of Russian President Vladimir Putin. On 21 December 2010, Estonian security police released a previously classified document revealing that Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin had promised ECP €1.5 million for its candidates in Estonia’s parliamentary elections. ECP is supported by 77 percent of Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority.  

Technique: 
  • No proof,
  •  conspiracy theories.

Analysis and impact: The debate on what is historical truth and what is debatable narrative regarding the end of the USSR has been raging since 1991. Even though viewpoints and interpretations may differ, the historical fact is that the Soviet Union occupied the Republic of Estonia in June 1940, and that the country regained its independence on 20 August 1991. 

Description of sources: Baltnews.ee is a Russian-language propaganda site in Estonia; it and similar portals for Latvia and Lithuania were launched in 2014. According to the Annual Review of the Estonian Internal Security Service, all three Baltnews portals are funded by Media Capital Holding BV, a Dutch-registered company controlled by people related to Rossiya Segodnya—a news agency wholly owned and operated by the Russian government. It also says one of the project’s founders was Vladimir Lepekhin, director of the Eurasian Economic Community Institute, which attempts to influence policy in Russia’s neighboring countries. Aleksandr Kornilov, who belongs to the local Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots and heads the propaganda portal baltija.eu, manages baltnews.ee.