While the only existential threat to the sovereignty of Estonia and other Baltic Sea countries comes from Russia, the threat of a direct Russian military attack on NATO member states in 2018 is low, the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS) said in its annual report.
The EFIS on Thursday published its annual report, titled "International Security and Estonia 2018," and most of the report focuses on Russia.
"In early 2018, the big question pertaining to Russia is what will happen after its March presidential elections," EFIS Director General Mikk Marran wrote in the foreword of the report. "Our aim is to cover the events in Russia that tend all too often to reach the public in a distorted or incomplete fashion. The Putin regime is masterful at fostering a false image and creating deceptions." Zapad 2017, the major Russian military exercise held in Western Russia last fall, was cited as a vivid example of this.
"Although Russia conducts large-scale military exercises, our report states clearly: the threat of a direct military attack on NATO member states in 2018 is low," Marran stressed.
Russia seeking to tarnish Baltic centennials
Nonetheless, the EFIS found that Russian propaganda is targeting the centennial celebrations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in attempts to tarnish and diminish them.
"In 2018, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will mark the centenaries of their independence," read the annual report. "The Kremlin's messages on this occasion are disseminated by history propagandists and pseudo-think tanks trying to tarnish and diminish these events."
According to the institution, "one of the first signs of the information influence campaign planned for 2018 was a conference held in St. Petersburg on Oct. 24, 2017, 'Wars and Revolutions in 1917-1920: The Birth of Finnish, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Statehood." The organizers were the Russian Baltic Studies Association, coordinated by the Presidential Administration, and an even more ambitious tool of the Kremlin, the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund."
Russia also actively seeks historians from the Baltic states who would be prepared to legitimize, by way of their participation, the Kremlin's propaganda aimed at Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the EFIS warned.
"It is clear that Russia does not seek a genuine dialogue or discussions; that is the establishment of a platform for academic relations," states the report. "Rather, it tries to simply exploit representatives of the imaginary adversary."
According to EFIS, the Kremlin has still not unequivocally condemned the Soviet regime's crimes against humanity in Russia and other countries, and "tries to direct the assessments of sensitive historical events through government institutions, including the special services — just as it did in Soviet times."
Although Russian meddling in several countries' internal affairs was exposed last year, this did not deter the Kremlin from undertaking new influence campaigns, noted the report, which warned that this year, Russia's influence activities will be just as active as in previous years.
According to the Estonian institution, for Russian special services, influence operations are an inexpensive, effective and well-established instrument in their arsenal. Russia's capability in the field of information warfare is growing, and Russia is already well-prepared for more extensive disinformation campaigns, the report stated.
Click here to read the full report in English (link to PDF).
The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (Välisluureamet) was previously known as the Estonian Information Board (Teabeamet).
Editor: Aili Vahtla