The Harju County Court on Thursday sentenced pro-Russian political activist Sergei Seredenko to five and a half years in prison for actions against the Estonian state. The sentence is longer than what was sought by the prosecution.
The Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) arrested Seredenko in March of last year following suspicions of activity against the Republic of Estonia. The Office of the Prosecutor General later charged him with maintaining an anti-Estonian relationship, ERR's Russian language portal rus.err.ee reported.
ISS Director Arnold Sinisalu said in April that Seredenko is an example of a person who prepares talking points to suit the Kremlin's interests that the latter and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs later deploy as part of using local agents to manufacture context to justify intervention should it prove necessary. "A series of asking questions and then proceeding to answer them," he said.
Seredenko is suspected of working with Russian special services, with Sinisalu describing his actions as extensive and spanning years.
It is unclear what punishment state prosecutor Taavi Pern sought for Seredenko.
The hearings were held behind closed doors, while the judgment was declared publicly.
The court's decision can be appealed.
Seredenko apparently looked to run for the Maardu City Council as an independent at local elections last October. He ran in the ranks of the Estonian Left Party in 2017 and got 20 votes but was not elected.
Before his arrest, Seredenko, a member of NGO The Immortal Regiment, worked as a caretaker at the Maardu High School.
Seredenko was found guilty based on section 2351, subsection 1 of the Penal Code and handed close to the maximum sentence of five and a half years time served. The start of the sentence is March 3, 2021, or when Seredenko was detained.
The court did not grant the defendant's motion to declare sections 232, 2342 and 2351 of the Penal Code unconstitutional.
The court found that Seredenko earned at least €5,185.79 and six badges as payment for crimes committed. The court ordered him to pay an equal sum into state proceeds and for his badges to be confiscated.
Seredenko must also pay €1,635 in procedural costs.
Seredenko worked with seven Russian representatives
According to the charges, Seredenko knowingly created and maintained a relationship aimed against the Republic of Estonia with seven persons acting in the interests of Russian government agencies between November 15, 2019, and March 3, 2021.
He forwarded them information, compiled and published articles, attended events and participated in the activities of organizations for the purposes of furthering Russia's foreign and security policy goals through influence activities with the aim of splitting the Estonian society, discrediting the Republic of Estonia and its institutions, prejudicing the Estonian constitutional order, independence, territorial integrity and security.
The court found the charges to have merit.
Court: Russia tried to restore its position as a superpower through hybrid means
Based on evidence presented to the court, also the foundations of Estonian security policy and Russia's security strategy and military doctrines, the court has established Russia's hostile position towards Estonia and aim to restore its position as a superpower in the service of which purpose various hybrid devices are employed against different states (including Estonia), the court's press representative said.
"Russia uses narratives to refer to Estonia and the other Baltic states aimed at compromising and discrediting them, painting them as backward, Nazi, fascist and malign. If the narrative of there discrimination in Estonia, that it is a Russophobic state where Russian speakers are persecuted, is repeated often enough, it could provide formal grounds for so-called defense of compatriots in the future. The latter could in turn lead to various events. For example, Russia's invasion of Ukraine was built on just such an excuse," the court found.
The court concluded that the defendant's actions in communicating with the seven persons mentioned in the charges and spreading anti-Estonian narratives in various works of writing on their behalf or in cooperation with them reflect a desire to create fertile soil to allow Russia to restore its position as a superpower by attacking the independence and territorial integrity of other states (including Estonia) in the scope of non-violent action.
Seredenko, on behalf of persons mentioned, systematically published written works to claim there is mass discrimination of the Russian-speaking population in Estonia on an official level, incitement of Russophobia, persecution of legal representatives, dissemination of Nazism and fascism. There were repeated claims that called into question Estonian independence, ridiculed and defamed Estonian institutions and leading politicians. The latter were accused of spreading Nazism and persecuting the Russian population. Seredenko spread similar narratives about Ukraine.
The defendant and his legal counsel claimed Seredenko was publishing personal political views and speaking as a human rights advocate, ombudsman, journalist and scientist, which is why his actions cannot be treated as a crime. The court did not hold these claims to be justified, reminding the defendant that freedom of expression is not absolute and the Estonian Constitution provides grounds on which it can be limited.
The court established that the accused was repeatedly told what to write and the tonality to be used, which renders groundless his claim that the political views expressed were his alone. Even if the positions coincided with Seredenko's personal views, the fact they were written in the interests of Russian government agencies and commissioned by persons employed by them cannot be overlooked, and the accused was aware of their purpose.
Editor: Marcus Turovski