Sinisalu: Russia trying to influence Estonia via Western countries

ISS Director General Arnold Sinisalu on ERR's Otse uudistemajast. 6 March 2019.
ISS Director General Arnold Sinisalu on ERR's Otse uudistemajast. 6 March 2019. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

According to Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) Director General Arnold Sinisalu, Russia's direct attempts at influence Estonia have not borne fruit, which is why the country's eastern neighbour has now switched tactics and is trying to influence Estonia by means of influencing the US and Western Europe.

"Estonian elections are certainly important to Russia, as we are a neighbouring state of theirs," Mr Sinisalu said during an appearance on Otse uudistemajast, ERR's online interview programme. "But it seems as though Russia has shifted the centre of gravity toward influencing America and Western Europe — in order to influence us through them, as influencing us directly has not achieved results."

On the subject of Russian interference in Estonia's 2019 Riigikogu election, the director general said that there was nothing surprising or peculiar to see here.

"The Russian Federation has attempted to influence Estonian elections since its reindependence [in 1991]," he said. "Feared cyber-attacks did not occur in Estonia, and in reality, Russia didn't need them either. Influencing has taken place via the media, via social media networks, and via personal contacts — and constantly. There was nothing unusual this time."

As an example, Mr Sinisalu cited Russian state media's coverage of the torchlight parade held in Tallinn on Estonian Independence Day, in which both the Reform Party and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) were named.

Asked whether the ISS would conduct background checks on and assess possible security risks connected to the new makeup of the Riigikogu, the director general said no.

"We don't directly conduct such analysis," he said. "The legislature has passed laws and all restrictions are codified by law. MPs have ex officio access to the state secret. An MP having access to the state secret does not mean that this is automatic; the holder of this information has to identify the grounds and need for access, and only then can they move forward. If one wants access to NATO secrets, however, then they must apply for access, in which case the necessary background check will be conducted by the ISS or the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service."

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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