The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has rejected claims which appeared in the international media at the weekend that the party had in 2019 been used to spread disinformation by organizations linked to the boss of the notorious Russian mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group.
International politics portal Politico reported Saturday that the Wagner Group's chief, oligarch and Vladimir Putin confidante Yevgeny Prigozhin, had planned a disinformation operation, to be distributed via EKRE, in 2019, the year the party entered coalition government.
In a statement issued Saturday evening via social media, EKRE said the Politico article represented fake news and electioneering.
"The closer the elections get, the more the information operations organized to influence the election result intensify. A good example of this is the article published by [Estonian portal] Delfi [who disseminated the Politico piece in Estonian] /Politico this evening; and article which arbitrarily tries to link EKRE. without providing any examples or facts, to the Kremlin and/or to Putin," the statement read.
EKRE added in its post that it had never requested or received finance from any businessmen, and has never communicated with potential foreign financiers. "Not once did the Internal Security Service or the Foreign Intelligence Unit issue any warning in 2019, when the party was in office, that any suspect individual had wanted to contact the party or had tried to approach the party," the statement added.
The statement called the mediating of the Politico piece by the Estonian media "regrettable", and said it was this which constituted an information operation which would "most likely lead to the Kremlin".
The statement also claimed that Social Democrats (SDE) MP Raimond Kaljulaid had received funding from "criminal businessmen" with Kremlin connections and involved in cryptocurrencies, ahead of the May 2019 European elections.
Kaljulaid left the Center Party, for whom he had run at the 2019 Riigikogu elections, shortly after taking up his seat, and went on to sit with the SDE Riigikogu group.
In its article, entitled "Inside the stunning growth of Russia's Wagner Group", Politico says EKRE declined comment, adding that a Meta (ie. Facebook) spokesperson had confirmed an "Estoners" group suspected of conducting operations relating to Prigozhin's misinformation network was taken down in 2018.
Harrys Puusepp, ISS chief, meanwhile told Politico that Wagner's Estonia strategy bore a strong resemblance to earlier Russian propaganda projects relating to the country.
Puusepp added that the effort focuses more on the long term and the opportunity the rise of populism in Europe provides for Kremlin propagandists, adding that such ops are "a persistent threat to Estonian national security," and in fact so recurring that the recent developments constitute "a regular Tuesday."
Favorite Kremlin's anti-Western narratives include issues supposedly created in Estonia by the EU and Estonia's membership thereof, along with those relating to NATO, and smears against former president Kersti Kaljulaid, and current prime minister Kaja Kallas.
Viljar Veebel, a researcher at the Tartu-based Baltic Defense College, also told Politico that: "The  cooperation started because EKRE wanted to be radically against the liberal parties, and they were happy to receive this very professionally prepared package."
Wagner is active in Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has reportedly captured key cities there on behalf of the Putin regime, while its influence in African nations and other parts of the world, has been widely reported-
Its fighters' numbers run into an estimated tens of thousands, including those effectively press-ganged from penitentiaries, while many of these now have actual combat experience.
Estonia had taken part in counter-terrorism activities in the West African country of Mali in recent years, another theater where Wagner have been active also.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael