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EKRE chairman: Special services covertly influencing Estonian politics

Mart Helme.
Mart Helme. Source: (Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR)

In an interview with ERR earlier this week, chairman of the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) Mart Helme said that the country's intelligence services are meddling with the political parties as well as with elections, and pointed to what he calls the "deep state" that covertly influences Estonia's politics.

Helme said he differs between the terms "regular state" and "deep state" to describe how Estonia is run. The "regular state" according to Helme is made up of the bureaucrats that run the different areas of government like their own little kingdoms.

"As ministers are rather inexperienced in their portfolios, naturally they are at the mercy of the officials," Helme said. "Having worked in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I've seen from the inside as well how smooth they are manipulating the ministers to get their own way."

What Helme calls the "deep state" consists of Estonia's special services, who influence and direct Estonian politics in secret. "It would be extremely naive to think that there aren't people in all the Estonian parties who keep certain organizations informed about what's going on," Helme said. "That's actually normal, as the special services need to know what is going on in the state, otherwise we wouldn't need them. But where it gets serious is where the deep state meddles with politics. And that's what we're seeing in Estonia," he added.

Special services meddled with 2016 presidential elections, Helme claims

Helme worked for the Foreign Ministry in the capacity of Estonia's ambassador to Russia, and later as one of its deputy secretaries-general. In the early 2000s he was an adviser to the minister of agriculture as well.

Having been a candidate himself in the 2016 presidential elections, Helme also claims that President Kersti Kaljulaid was said special services' choice, and that the same applies to "several" of the candidates Helme ran against leading up to what eventually turned into a rather lengthy and complicated procedure.

"I don't doubt it in the slightest that the deep state was involved in the presidential elections, and that half of the candidates had its blessing," he said. After the failed election rounds in the Riigikogu and the electoral college, it was the same deep state as well that chose Kersti Kaljulaid as a so-called compromise candidate.

Helme refused to name any names, and added that being a historian himself he knows very well that the media have been manipulated as an instrument of the special services since as far back as the 18th century.

"If someone now tries to tell me that I'm a victim of conspiracy theories, well, I'm not," Helme said. That he only got 16 votes in the 2016 elections had also been influenced by the deep state: he had been very popular, but within just a week to ten days, everything changed very suddenly. "The same people that were greeting me with a smile just before were suddenly very reserved," he added.

Intelligence services, MPs: Allegations make no sense

The Estonian authorities Helme might be referring to are the Internal Security Service (ISS, also referred to as Kapo) and the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service. Raivo Aeg (IRL), chairman of the Riigikogu's Security Authorities Surveillance Select Committee and former chief of the ISS, told ERR on Wednesday that Helme's allegations "belong in the realm of fantasy."

Aeg said Helme was trying to find someone to blame for his bad result in the 2016 presidential elections. Asked by ERR what Estonia's political mechanisms are to keep the special services out, Aeg pointed to internal controls as a first level of control.

"Control by the ministry. There are civil control measures as well like parliamentary supervision," Aeg said. "In addition there has been a division at the Office of the Chancellor of Justice as well for several years now that deals with the supervision of the police as well as the legality of the work of the special services," he added.

Former minister of the interior and deputy chairman of the same committee, Kalle Laanet (Reform), added that "though Estonia is a democratic state, it isn't befitting for a member of the Riigikogu to throw around suspicions in public that he can't back up."

Having worked in various legal capacities for 20 years, he has no information whatsoever that the country's intelligence and counterintelligence services have any kind of influence on Estonia's politics, Laane said.

The Internal Security Service said through its press office on Wednesday that influencing politics "isn't part of its job description."

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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