Russia is trying to influence the election results in Estonia

Estonia is a country that is one of the leaders in helping Ukraine. At least in terms of population.

The military aid provided has already reached 1% of the country’s GDP. Also, all of the howitzers and anti-tank grenade launchers that the Estonian army had were given to Kyiv.

This level of support is the result of a consensus in Estonian politics. All parties represented in the Riigikogu (Estonian parliament) support military support for Ukraine.

However, the Russian Federation still hopes to turn the tables—if not in its favor, then at least in the direction of more restrained assistance to Kyiv.

The Kremlin is given such a chance by the parliamentary elections in Estonia, which will take place in less than a month, on March 5.

Russian propaganda has already joined this campaign, promoting anti-European and anti-Ukrainian theses.

The Kremlin’s arsenal of information warfare includes fakes, conspiracy theories, disinformation, and numerous manipulations.

“The Party of Russian Speakers”

As elsewhere, the Kremlin is trying to rely on pro-Kremlin people, political activists, and politicians who can still be found in Estonia even after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

At the same time, the Kremlin’s agents of influence can be both small-time radical politicians and people from major political parties.

In this case, we are talking about some politicians from the Center Party, currently the largest opposition force but until recently the party in power.

The Center Party has unequivocally condemned Russia’s aggression and mostly supports assistance to Ukraine. However, the situation is not so simple.

In the past, this party was seen as speaking for the interests of Estonians who spoke Russian as their first language.

As a result, many of its members have extensive experience cooperating with Russia (and will almost certainly continue to do so).

For example, on February 23, 2022 (the day before the full-scale invasion), the Estonian parliament held the first reading of the petition On the Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine,” submitted by 86 deputies. This vote split the Center Party, although many of its members supported the petition.

Obviously, the full-scale war against Ukraine has changed the situation, and some politicians who openly or mostly openly supported the Kremlin’s stories have become more cautious.

However, even now, there are politicians in the ranks of the “centrists” (although their number has decreased) who directly or covertly promote these types of Russian propaganda.

For example, Oudekki Loone was already known (before the events of 2022) for her Soviet nostalgia and positive attitude towards the USSR, communism, and Russia.

Even better known is MP Mikhail Stalnukhin (former chairman of the Narva City Council).

Back in February 2022, he gave an interview to the German news portal Taz, in which, among other things, he stated that he did not believe in Russian aggression against Ukraine but instead believed in Ukrainian provocations. There, he called the President of Ukraine “a clown who is leading his country to destruction.”

Stalnukhin was one of the people who fought hardest against taking apart the Narva tank. It went so far that in an interview, he called those demanding the dismantling of Soviet memorials in Estonia Nazis. He also called members of the Estonian government fascists.

Even the Center Party could not stand it and had to expel Stalnukhin from its ranks.

But he is still one of the most well-liked politicians in Narva, which is possibly the most pro-Russian city in Estonia. This means that he has every chance of retaining his parliamentary seat, either with the Center Party or separately.

An alliance of the left and the far right

Radicals, both left and right, remain the more outspoken agents of the Kremlin’s interests.

And what makes Estonia unique is that they can form a political alliance.

It is worth mentioning here the United Left Party of Estonia (ULPE), created in 2008 by the merger of the Left Party of Estonia and the Constitutional Party.

Before the 2023 elections, the OLPE merged with a number of Russian conservatives and nationalists to form the Koos (“Together”) electoral movement. The latter failed to obtain party status but found a way out through an alliance with the OLPE.

The political program of the Koos movement is openly pro-Kremlin.

The leader of this movement, Ivo Peterson (formerly Krylov), always says in his social media posts that friendship with Russia is very important and that Estonia’s support for Ukraine is not okay.

In the spring of 2022, Peterson did things like defend the Russian embassy from people he thought were too radical, including fellow countrymen.

Such an alliance of leftists and conservatives may seem unnatural. However, for Putin’s friends, the main thing is different.

For instance, both Koos and OLPE supporters say that Ukrainian refugees are a threat to Estonia. On the Internet, you can find a video where supporters of the movement talk for an hour and a half about how Estonia is becoming more like Ukraine.

In November 2022, people from the OLPE and Koos political parties went on a TV show hosted by a Kremlin propagandist named Vladimir Solovyov. They talked about how “Russophobia” was getting worse in Estonia.

Although this pro-Kremlin bloc has few chances of getting into parliament, they can create a lot of scandals during the election campaign.

In January, it became known that the Russian Orthodox Church and pro-Kremlin activists wanted to organize a prayer service at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn before the elections. The prayer service was planned to be held jointly with Koos. 

But later, when these plans caused a big fuss, the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate said that the service planned for February 22 would not happen.

Trolls and situational allies of the Kremlin

Last year, in April, the Russian-language Facebook group Tallinnites spread the news that the Estonian government would pay 900 euros in aid to Ukrainian refugees. 

Most of the comments that were against Ukrainians said that Ukrainian refugees should leave Estonia quickly and go help defend their country instead of trying to get money from other people.

Another widespread narrative was that no one would vote for a government that gave away pennies to its citizens and thousands of euros to “traitors.”

By “traitors,” pro-Russian propagandists meant refugees from Ukraine.

In addition, there is a group of Russian speakers who are conventionally called “good Russians” and who seem to condemn Russia’s actions and the war, but for them, things are not so clear.

These are either latent (not explicit) supporters of the Kremlin narrative and lovers of the Russian Federation or people who are in the gray information zone, i.e., those who have not decided on a side. These “good Russians” are also an element that can be used by the Kremlin to its advantage in the event of a crisis and security problems, for example, as a hybrid weapon to destabilize the situation. They can also be influenced by Russian trolls and social media messages, and some of these “good Russians” are pro-Kremlin trolls themselves.

Some Estonian right-wing conservative and left-wing politicians and public figures have a similar discourse to the Kremlin.

This can be clearly seen in the debate over the expansion of the Nursipalu military training ground. Its expansion has been criticized by many politicians (for example, by the Koos movement), who claim that the state, in the name of war, wants to destroy everything on the land where several generations of Estonians grew up.

But while it was clear that pro-Russian forces opposed the expansion, the Nursipalu debate also showed that some Estonian politicians, especially from the right-wing conservative and Eurosceptic party EKRE, are also willing to stop the expansion of the training ground, which is needed to improve Estonia’s defense capabilities (even though EKRE generally supports Estonia’s military buildup).

Criticizing the expansion of the Nursipalu training ground harshly, trying to stop Sweden and Finland from joining NATO, and spreading false information about Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees are all things that help the Kremlin the most.

Obviously, a month before the parliamentary elections, there will be even more such fakes.

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