The eighth annual Lennart Meri Conference (LMC), held on April 24-26 in Tallinn, focused on the security challenges in the vicinity of Estonia.
As expected, most of the debates revolved around the challenges Russia poses to its neighbors, its aggression in Ukraine, and fighting the false Russian propaganda, which is spreading in the West.
One of the liveliest debates took place during the panel debating Russian propaganda, “The Power of Narratives: An Unwinnable War over the Truth?” Moderated by Edward Lucas and comprising of Peter Pomerantsev, a UK-based TV producer and author, Jüri Luik, Estonian Ambassador to Russia, Leon Aron, Director of Russian Studies, American Enterprise Institute, and Linas Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, it searched for answers on how to deal with the Russian misinformation and false narratives.
Luik argued that the West should take Russian propaganda head-on - first by properly studying the false narratives and then aggressively fighting against them. There were some in the audience who wanted to explore an opportunity to shut down Russian media channels in the West, but the panel agreed that this would be unwise, as upholding the freedom of expression is of utmost importance. Luik also said that in order to fight the false Russian narratives, the West should convincingly condemn communism and Stalinism, as well as fearlessly counter Russian arguments in relation to Kosovo - one of President Vladimir Putin's favorite arguments when justifying Crimea's breakaway from Ukraine and annexation by Russia was the West's acceptance of Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008.
Pomerantsev disagreed with Luik on the methods to fight Russian propaganda, arguing that it is impossible to win the war of narratives with Russia – its propaganda machine will counter every news and it would be a never-ending clash, in which the democratic West would lose – Kremlin would actually prefer the info-war, in order to turn everything upside down. Pomerantsev came up with an idea to produce Russian domestic news for its own audience instead, as the country's propaganda machine has focused on news about Putin, chaos in Ukraine, and “exposing Western imperialism,” while neglecting media coverage about its own society. He said that Western media outlets could use this weak spot to their advantage.
Both Luik and Pomerantsev expressed concerns about the increasing war-rhetoric and over-militarization in Russia's public discourse and the media.
Major debate also took place over Ukraine, themed “Is There a Will? Is There a Way,” in which Hanna Hopko, the Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Ukrainian Parliament, James Sherr, Associate Fellow, Chatham House, Ilya Ponomarev, Member of State Duma of Russia, and Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas were looking for answers on what the future holds for Ukraine. Rõivas suggested a "new Marshall Plan for the 21st century" to support Ukraine and stressed that the West needs to do more to help the country.
There were some participants in the conference, such as Pakistani journalist and writer Ahmed Rashid, who reminded that in a global context, there are currently other acute issues - such as the Islamic extremist group Isil's terror in Iraq and Syria, and the Mediterranean migration crisis - which may draw attention away from Ukraine and Russia. “What if Isil managed to get a foothold in Saudi Arabia and control its oil fields?” Rashid asked. Indeed, Isil regards the ultimate capture of Saudi Arabia, home of Mecca and Medina, as a key goal and has previously managed to attack a Saudi border post.
Kadri Liik, a senior policy fellow at European Council of Foreign Relations, told ERR that it is natural that the problems closer to one's borders – such as the migration crisis to Italy – are perceived as more important. But Liik argued that the regional security and Russia's aggressive behavior is a global topic and looking at the prominent delegates who gathered at the conference, Estonia is punching above its weight, because of its long experience in dealing with Russia.
The conference proved that Estonia has become a fertile ground for democratic Russian thinkers and politicians. Andrey Illarionov, a Senior Fellow at Cato Institute and former adviser to the Russian President, Ilya Ponomarev, Member of State Duma of Russia, Andrey Soldatov, editor of Agentura.ru, Vladimir Milov, head of Democratic Choice Party of Russia, and Artemy Troitsky, a journalist and academic who recently relocated to Estonia, all represented a hope that Russia will have more liberal times ahead.
The conference also featured a moving tribute to Boris Nemtsov – a Russian liberal opposition politician who was killed in Moscow on February 27. Nemtsov had attended Lennart Meri Conference in previous years and fought fiercely against Putin's regime.
LMC was founded in 2007, in memory of late Estonian President Lennart Meri (1929-2006). Conceived as a new forum to discuss Europe’s burning issues and problems, the conference intends to carry forward Meri’s legacy and ensure that Estonia continues to be seen as a country willing and able to play a proper part in finding new solutions and opportunities. Over the years it has focused on key global foreign and security policy issues, on the future of capitalism, energy security, transatlantic relations, Eastern partnership, the future of NATO, and cyber security.
Editor: S. Tambur