The Estonian State Prosecutor's Office has sent a criminal case to court, charging Estonian citizens Aivo Peterson and Dmitri Rootsi with treason. Russian citizen Andrey Andronov is also accused of the crime of committing non-violent actions against the Estonian state by a foreigner.
If found guilty of treason, Peterson and Rootsi could be sentenced to between six and twenty years', or even life, in prison. If convicted of non-violent acts against Estonia by a foreign citizen, the court may hand Andronov a prison sentence of between two and fifteen years.
According to the charges, between October 2022 to and March 10, 2023, Peterson, who is one of the leaders of the Koos/Vmeste movement, and Dmitri Rootsi, on the basis of instructions from the Russian Federation, knowingly and in an organized manner, assisted Russia and persons acting on behalf of the Russian authorities in non-violent activities directed against the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Estonia.
According to the indictment, the defendants participated in a conscious influence campaign aimed at creating a political association in Estonia that supports Russian foreign and security policy narratives and propaganda messages. The aim of this association, according to the charges, was to enable Russia to threaten Estonia's constitutional order, interfere in Estonia's domestic politics and influence foreign policy.
Peterson is also alleged to have assisted Andronov in committing non-violent actions with the aim of violating Estonia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
According to State Prosecutor Triinu Olevi, Peterson and Andronov knowingly took part in Russia's information influencing activities, which consisted, among other things, of spreading narratives in support of the security policy and propaganda messages promoted by the Russian Federation, both on social media and Russian state media.
Peterson is one of the leading members of the Koos / Vmeste movement and ran as a candidate in the 2023 Riigikogu elections on the list of the United Left Party (EÜVP) in Ida-Viru County, collecting 3,969 votes. Peterson has previously made statements in favor of Russia's current policies and visited occupied regions of Ukraine, from where he last returned in early March.
Peterson was detained by the Internal Security Service (ISS) along with Rootsi and Andronov in March this year.
Rootsi and Andronov are both members of the former Night Watch. Andronov is a Russian citizen, who has a permanent residence permit in Estonia.
The suspects remain in custody.
Peterson's lawyer: Accusations based on really big fantasy
Aivo Peterson's lawyer, Mati Senkel, told ERR radio that in his view, the charges brought against his client are "utopian" or "a really big fantasy."
"In my view, this accusation is utopian, to say the least. Contrary to what is stated in the press release from the Prosecutor's Office, which says that it this is in line with current legal practices, I find it to be in flagrant contradiction with current legal practices," said Senkel.
Herman Simm, Aleksei Dressen, Vladimir Veitman, Uno Puusepp, Deniss Metsavas and Pjotr Volin have all been found guilty of treason. Two had been members of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), while the rest were senior Internal Security Service officials. In most of the cases, the accused had been acting clandestinely for over a decade, during which time they sold state secrets to Russia, Senkel said. (Volin was the father of EDF soldier Metsavas and a pensioner – ed.).
However, unlike them, Peterson has acted openly, Senkel stressed. "His activities have all been public, and even now you can see his statements on social media, which speak of Estonia's unity, of the non-Estonian and Estonian-speaking populations being together and in solidarity."
"I would like to emphasize again that all of [Peterson's] activities - including the videos of his speech on Russian television - have been and still are public, as far as I know. I'm not sure about all of them, but a certain amount are viewable on YouTube. So, any Estonian who uses the internet can look at his views and if they should find anything there that speaks against Estonia's independence, sovereignty or territorial integrity, it is a really big fantasy," Senkel said.
"In any case, if this verdict is indeed the way the prosecution states in its press release, as it claims in its charges, then I think this would be a revolutionary decision for Estonian jurisprudence," Peterson's lawyer added.
Editor: Michael Cole