The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) says it will file suit against an academic and against some media outlets in Estonia over an article published by online portal Politico last weekend, unless a rebuttal is issued.
EKRE issued a statement Tuesday morning in which it demands a "rebuttal and an apology from Baltic Defense College researcher Viljar Veebel, who provided false information to international publication Politico, and also from those Estonian media outlets that have spread slander, relating to the party."
The party also set a deadline by which it requires this to have taken place.
"The refutation of the false allegations, plus the apology, must have been published before the initial Riigikogu elections voting, ie. in the course of this current week, and to the same extent and visibility as the slander was first presented in these publications," the EKRE statement went on.
Advance voting, including e-voting, commences Monday, February 27, while Friday, February 24 is a national holiday.
If this demand is not met, EKRE says it will file suit against the publishers of the publications in question, and against "other persons", demanding the refutation of the false claims.
A cease and desist order and damages for the alleged slander already published would also form part of the court action.
EKRE denies ever having had any contact with the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization which has come to prominence during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and also in other theaters, such as the African Sahel country of Mali.
EKRE also denies having had contact with any other pro-Kremlin or Russian disinformation organization.
"Claims to the contrary constitute deliberately spread disinformation, whose aim is to influence the outcome of the Riigikogu elections," the EKRE statement continued.
Politico reported that documents it had received whose origin was Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin's network – Prigozhin is the head of the Wagner Group – along with information from U.S. sources, demonstrated that Prigozhin's organizations had intentionally tried to intervene in the internal workings of democracy in Estonia in 2019.
More specifically, Politico alleged that Prigozhin staffers had used EKRE as a conduit for influencing the May 2019 European elections, in fact, by supporting EKRE's campaigning.
EKRE was in office at that time following the March 2019 Riigikogu election. The party has one MEP, Jaak Madison.
The extent to which the alleged activities followed a plan pre-set by Prigozhin's staff is unclear, Politico added.
Politico cited evidence from Meta, the owner of Facebook, who said that Facebook groups which the disinformation network headed by Prigozhin had planned did not come to fruition, at least not under the proposed group names.
As for Viljar Veebel, who lectures at the Tartu-based Baltic Defense College – he was quoted in the Politico piece as follows: "The cooperation started because EKRE wanted to be radically against the liberal parties, and they were happy to receive this very professionally prepared package."
Internal Security Service (ISS) chief Harrys Puusepps told ETV show "Ringvaade" Monday that his organization has no information which suggests actual, concrete contact between EKRE and Prigozhin himself had ever taken place, though he did say that all the hallmarks of Kremlin influencing activity were apparent, in the material disseminated by Politico (and which the ISS had already had access to).
Media outlets inside Estonia itself which carried the Politico story include portal Delfi.
Editor: Andrew Whyte