Meelis Oidsalu: Does the Baltic Defense College know more about EKRE?

Meelis Oidsalu.
Meelis Oidsalu. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

POLITICO'S article includes two claims. The publication's editors claim that Russia's Wagner mercenary group planned to meddle in Estonian politics. Baltic Defense College research fellow Viljar Veebel, on the other hand, says that Wagner did work with the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE).

On February 18, POLITICO ran a long article it dubbed a special report on Russia's infamous Wagner Group and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin's European connections. The article is based on U.S. diplomatic cables.

One of its main findings is that Prigozhin's network has meddled in other countries' political systems for years, trying to spread disinformation and carry out political influence missions in EU countries, including Estonia in an attempt to fan anti-NATO and anti-Western moods.

One of the most highly regarded publications in the West writes that U.S. diplomatic documents (likely embassy cables) suggest the Wagner Group tried to "carry out influence operations in Estonia in an attempt to stir Euroskepticism and distrust toward NATO." Prigozhin's network also allegedly tried to meddle in the Estonian political system.

Included in the POLITICO article is a photo of former EKRE leader Mart Helme from the 2019 Riigikogu elections. Considering how many times Estonia is mentioned in the article, one would suspect the publication was working with solid information. According to POLITICO, a relevant document suggests Wagner considered backing EKRE before previous Riigikogu elections. However, the publication stops short of claiming anything more.

The only part of the article where said cooperation is mentioned as a fact is a quote by Baltic Defense College researcher Viljar Veebel: "The cooperation started because EKRE wanted to be radically against the liberal parties, and they were happy to receive this very professionally prepared package."

The sentence presents cooperation between EKRE and Wagner as fact, also hinting that resources changed hands (in referring to a "package").

We are mere weeks away from Riigikogu elections, and it is clear the EKRE genie released from the Wagner lamp will not be put back in before they roll around. EKRE have made many enemies over the years and should not be surprised to see people taking hints of ties between them and the Russians at face value. This might be one of the reasons why the Politico article is not scrutinized too thoroughly. Especially considering the neoconservatives' close ties to Moscow and partial overlap of messages and views in other parts of Europe.

What is confusing about the POLITICO article is that it holds two [different] claims. The editorial desk at POLITICO claims that the Wagner Group was planning to meddle in Estonian politics. Baltic Defense College research fellow Viljar Veebel says in the same article that Wagner did work with EKRE.

This has no bearing on my conduct as an Estonian voter as I would not vote for EKRE in either case, while the two claims nevertheless have very different implications for Estonian domestic politics. If the Baltic Defense College or any other state agency has information that made it possible to give POLITICO such a comment, it is likely that potential EKRE voters would like to be informed of such important matters before the elections officially kick off.


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Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Marcus Turovski

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