I had the pleasure of traveling to Estonia this past week to prepare for an upcoming exercise. While I was there, some of the Estonian officers briefed me about how Russia is running a disinformation campaign in Estonia. That part was no surprise to me; we know the Russians have been doing this for years. What was surprising was the similarities to operations conducted against the United States.
The Russians never liked losing the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and have wanted for years to bring them back into the Soviet fold. All three countries have significantly better economies than Russia, and in the case of Estonia the GDP is almost double. There are significant Russian-speaking minorities in each country, but the governments have done a good job at giving them a voice and allowing generous freedoms to the press.
Russia’s misinformation campaign attacks along three lines of effort:
- Identity politics to keep the Russian-speaking minority think of itself as Russian and not a citizen of another state.
- De-legitimize the current government.
- Downplay any economic growth.
Russia uses a variety of media, from RT and SputnikNews to BaltNews, to push their propaganda. A favorite tactic is to dig up some old Russian-speaking person on the street and interview him or her. Inevitably, that person says that life was “better under Russia,” despite every economic and health indicator showing otherwise.
In terms of NATO, the Russians have a hey-day whenever NATO conducts maneuver exercises. Estonia is small (a little over 1 million people) and it conducts exercises annually that mobilize its military and police force (typically in May). This means that at some point, civilians going about their day to day business will brush up on tank movements, police responses and the like. Most people roll with the punches, recognizing that a small inconvenience is normal to ensure military and police readiness. But, Russian news will find the one farmer that didn’t like military movements down the road and interview him. Even if they can’t find him, they will recycle the interviews from previous years.
While 89 percent of Estonians are in favor of NATO membership, the indicator for the Russian-speaking respondents is considerably lower, only 32 percent. A total of 48 percent of the Russian-speaking respondents are against Estonia belonging to NATO, and one fifth has no specific preference.From https://news.err.ee/834697/survey-support-of-russian-speaking-residents-of-nato-membership-still-low
If the above lines of effort seem familiar, they should be. A simple viewing of RT shows highlights of increasing sectional divide in America, attempting to de-legitimize American elections and downplaying American economic growth. Unfortunately, our media is parroting these lines, either out of laziness or because they conveniently line up with their own beliefs.
Despite how very different our two countries are, Estonia and the United States have both drawn the attention of the Russian misinformation campaign. We would be smart to recognize that in both cases, the Russians don’t have our best interests at heart.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, Estonian Military or any other government agency. Please hit Da Tip Jar at the top if you care about independent media!!