Briefs

Estonia: 3-9 October 2016

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A few days after Estonia’s presidential elections, Russia’s online newspaper Vzglyad quoted Dmitry Linter—an Estonian “human rights activist”—as saying that Kersti Kaljulaid had been elected undemocratically, lacks legitimacy and has a Russophobic, neo-Nazi past. Linter also claimed that the new Estonian government was formed in violation of democratic procedures.

Event: On 3 October, Russia’s pro-Kremlin online newspaper Vzglyad published an article in which so-called Estonian human rights activist Dmitry Linter claimed that since President Kersti Kaljulaid was chosen by the so-called Committee of Elders and then approved by parliament, her election was non-democratic and therefore has no legitimacy.

The false fact or narrative: Linter claimed that Kaljulaid’s former membership in the Isamaaliit (Pro Patria) party—which he said promotes Russophobic and neo-Nazi ideas—makes her unqualified for the presidency. He also claimed that interference by James D. Melville Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Estonia, in the election process makes Kaljulaid a convenient leader for Washington. Finally, he said, Kaljulaid’s predecessor, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, has close connections to the United States, and that after the last parliamentary elections he did not give the pro-Russian Estonian Center Party a chance to form a government, even though it won a majority of the votes—almost twice as much as its closest competitor.

Reality on the ground: First, Estonia’s democratically elected parliament chose Kaljulaid in accordance with Estonian law; therefore she is a legitimate president. Second, Isamaaliit is neither Russophobic, nor does it promote neo-Nazi ideas; it is a national conservative, but not extremist, party. Third, there is no evidence that Melville interfered in the election process. Fourth, under the Estonian constitution the president does not have to let the party that gets the most votes lead a government; that opportunity is usually given to the party most likely to form a coalition. Isamaaliit is a centrist, populist (and, as described by Russian media, pro-Russian) party with very limited potential to form such a coalition. In 2004, it signed a cooperation agreement with Russia’s ruling United Russia party, sparking severe criticism by almost all other parties in parliament. Finally, Isamaaliit won only 24.8 percent of the vote—clearly not a majority—in Estonia’s 2015 parliamentary elections.

Techniques: No proof; ridiculing, discrediting, diminution; narrative laundering; conspiracy theories and false facts.

Audience: Russian citizens and Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority.

Analysis: The false facts in this article support several Kremlin narratives: that Estonia is a U.S. lapdog and is a non-democratic, Russophic country where neo-Nazi ideas are tolerated. Since the story targets mainly Russian citizens, its aim is to show Estonia—and the West in general—as hostile to Russia. Linter, which it calls a human rights activist, is actually a pro-Kremlin political militant and was one of the leaders of the Nochnoy Dozor advocacy group that opposed relocating the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn memorial in 2007. The Soviet-era World War II monument, originally named the “Monument to the Liberators of Tallinn,” was moved to the Defense Forces Cemetery amid bitterness by Estonia’s Russophone immigrants and ethnic Estonians over interpretation of the war. The dispute sparked rioting in Tallinn, the week-long seizure of Estonia’s embassy, diplomatic strain between Russia and Estonia, and cyberattacks on Estonian organizations. In March 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea, Linter urged the formation of volunteer groups to promote a “correct holiday” in the Crimea to support Russian aggression.

Description of sources:Vzglyad is a Russian online newspaper established in 2005 and produced by Russian politician Konstantin Rykov. Since 2002, Rykov has led the Internet department of Russian TV’s First Channel. He supports Russian President Vladimir Putin via his websites Zaputina.ru and Russia.ru. On 2 December 2007, Rykov was elected to the Duma as a candidate of the pro-Kremlin party United Russia.