DEFENDING THE CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER
The 1990s – a time to learn how to swim at the deep end
[..] As a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the immigrants brought to Estonia during the occupation period – the majority of whom were Russian-speaking – were left stateless and unemployed. Thousands of retired Russian military personnel, former professional members of the military, and former employees of the Soviet security structure remained in Estonia. This was seen by the Kremlin as an opportunity to influence our domestic politics6 and accuse Estonia on the international stage of discriminating against Russian-speakers. [..]
6 Russia, as the successor state to the Soviet Union, did not wish to accept them as Russian citizens, instead hoping that Estonia would grant them citizenship. As Estonian citizens, they would have gained the right to directly influence the situation.
In the 1990s, Pyotr Rozhok,7 Oleg Morozov, Eduard Shaumyan, Yuri Mishin and Esya Shur – who were primarily active in Tallinn and Ida-Virumaa county, and who acted under the collective name of the Union of Russian Citizens – aspired to become the representatives of the Russian-speaking population. At the instigation of the Russian Embassy, they organised frequent, unauthorised demonstrations against alleged violations of the human rights of Russian-speakers, which initially went unpunished due to inadequate legislation. These activists, who dreamed of Russian chauvinism, were not capable of cooperating with each other and they lacked sufficient support, which is why they failed to achieve any success in domestic politics.
7 Also the representative in Estonia of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
In the early 2000s, the Russian Embassy, including intelligence officers, under the guidance of the Presidential Administration of Russia, led the effort to group various Russian-speaking associations in Estonia under one umbrella organisation [..] The requirement to speak the official language and efforts to desegregate the education system were presented as discrimination against the Russian-speaking community. Subsequently, the Kremlin has used the alleged need to protect the Russian-speaking population as a pretext for aggression against Georgia and Ukraine.
In addition, there was an effort to strengthen influence by bringing together local Russian-speaking political parties that wished to represent the Russian-speaking population. [..]
During this period, the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights, a non-profit association founded in Estonia in 1994, developed into an important tool in the Kremlin’s influence operations. For the Kremlin, this is probably considered the most successful influence project against Estonia. The rhetoric of the protection of human rights opened international financial taps, which, in turn, legitimised the centre’s activities and its accusations of human rights abuses in Estonia. The existence of ethnic groups who had real reason to worry about the survival of their culture was hushed up. For the international community, ethnic minorities in Estonia had to identify with Russians. In other words, there was an attempt to create a single imaginary Russian super-minority, the preservation of whose occupation-era privileges would serve as a measure of the human rights situation. This partly succeeded, but not in a definitive and irreversible way.
There is, of course, no way around the riots of April 2007.15 Retrospective reports often overlook the fact that tensions around the so-called Bronze Soldier were exacerbated by a few Russian extremists with political ambitions in connection with the 2005 local government elections. [..] What happened around the Bronze Soldier was similar to the actions organised against education reforms in Latvia.16 [..]
15 We covered the causes and conclusions of this in more detail in the KAPO annual reviews between 2006 and 2008.
16 Members of the Nochnoy Dozor (Klenski, Linter, Siryk) involved in the April riots previously also protested against the planned reform of Russian-language schools in Estonia in 2007. In addition, the Russian Embassy intervened and there were aggressive influence operations in the Russian media
[..] Admittedly, the Estonian activists were acquitted in court of organising the April riots. [..]
One example of the dangers of living in a Kremlin-controlled information space and the need for a unified education system was the unauthorised demonstration by Russian-speaking students against the Iraq War in the spring of 2003 in front of the US Embassy in Tallinn. This developed into a violent breach of public order.17 [..]
17 The demonstration was initiated by Dmitri Kondrashov, the founder of the short-lived youth association Front and former correspondent for Regnum (Baltiskii Mir – no longer published), who subsequently fled to Russia.
In the light of the April riots, the Kremlin further acknowledged its need to work with young people abroad and to involve and influence them. Greater attention was paid to Russian-speaking school children in Estonia, who were mainly living in the Kremlin-controlled information field. For example, they were offered free participation in military camps in Russia.
Inciting and exploiting extremism
[..] Energised by the influence operations fund, which functions in the guise of legal protection, there were renewed calls, mainly spearheaded by municipal politicians, for the preservation of the Russian-language education system, originally created as part of the Soviet policy of Russification, as well as the special status for the Russian language. In lieu of public support, they managed to find sympathy and funding mainly from the Russian Embassy. With the support of the influence operations fund and the Russian Embassy, local pro-Kremlin activists began to participate regularly in the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meetings of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. There, characteristically taking advantage of the West’s freedom of speech, they regularly engage in the unilateral vilification of Estonia with messages prescribed by the Kremlin. [..]
2019: A lack of ideas and resources in the politics of division
Even more dangerous are the Kremlin’s attempts to promote cooperation in sensitive fields and seek direct contacts with local government. For example, various educational agreements with regions and institutions in Russia may work against Estonia’s educational policy goals, hinder the educational integration of Estonia’s inhabitants, and promote instead the objectives of the Kremlin’s politics of division. Recently, Vladimir Putin has repeatedly called for a vigorous implementation of the national programme “Support and Promotion of the Russian Language Abroad”. It is in the Kremlin’s interest to maintain Russian-language education in schools abroad, which is why teachers are provided with in-service training and students are offered learning environments and encouraged to continue their education in Russia.
Document data: 14.04.2020. Link: https://kapo.ee/sites/default/files/public/content_page/Annual%20Review%202019.pdf