Ukraine Crisis Media Center, Kyiv, 29 January 2016
Russian Propaganda and Pro-Separatist Media in Ukraine
H.E. Sulev KANNIKE
Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to Ukraine
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As Ambassador Pyatt said, that all these conferences are really timely. I will limit my comments and remarks to only one aspect of the discussion, I will focus on how Russian- language and Pro-Russian journalists are working in Estonia. I am not only speaking about Russian propaganda attacking the image of Estonia, but also the image of Ukraine in border states. And there are interesting differences when comparing how the Kremlin is working in Ukraine and it is operations in the capitals of the European Union.
In Estonia, there are, three, four, or five big Russian language newspapers, there are radio channels, but there are no –or hasn’t been for years—Russian-speaking TV channel. In the past, all TV content was coming directly from Russia, from St. Petersburg and the First Baltic Channel. Now, the Estonian Republic has set up one official TV channel. It is more or less financed by the Estonian State. Because of that, our Russian-speaking journalists had to revert to written media, and of course, to social media. Estonian-speaking media have been pro-Ukraine throughout the Ukraine crisis. There have been very few voices and remarks critical of Ukraine, nothing Pro-Russia or Pro-Kremlin, simply skeptical towards Russia, in respect of the freedom of speech and press. In Russian speaking media, I have to say that 90% of journalists are critical and skeptical of Ukraine, or simply Pro-Russian. When I am saying Pro-Russian I am not saying that the Estonian Russian-speaking journalists are paid by the Kremlin—some, maybe, but I could not prove anything. They are mostly ethnically Russians, educated in Russia or in the Soviet area, and sometimes they are simply explaining their views.
Propaganda in Estonian Russian-speaking newspapers and in Ukraine and Russia present some differences. Typically, the journalist declares “I love Ukraine,” or “I have a lot of friends in Ukraine.” Second, “but the situation in Ukraine is very complicated, there are two Ukraines–there is eastern Ukraine and there is Western Ukraine, which includes Kyiv”. People of Eastern Ukraine, of course, are portrayed as prosperous, nice Russian speaking people who defend their language and culture, are afraid of nationalists, hence why the war happened. Usually, journalists do not directly accuse the Ukrainian Army Forces like in Russian propaganda, but rather portray the start of the war as something abrupt and groundless. They explain the situation in Kyiv, which is presented as being part of Western Ukraine. Again, there are a lot of good people in Western Ukraine and in Kyiv, but the politicians are weak and corrupt, there are nationalists, there are foreign agents and so Maidan happened. About Maidan – of course in the Russian press, you will never find any good words about it. Estonian Russian-speaking journalists sometimes admit that people protesting at Maidan were nice and naïve people. But again, of course, during Maidan, foreign agents, oligarchs and foreign money were involved, and people followed the wrong leadership. What I mean is that, in comparison to the Russian TV channels’ way of covering the events in Ukraine, the Estonian Russian-speaking media covers them in a much less emotional, much less aggressive fashion. But the Estonian Russian-speaking media try to spread the idea that Ukraine is so complicated that the state and the citizens of Ukraine do not understand themselves what is happening in Ukraine. They also try to convince that Estonia does not understand the situation in Ukraine. It endeavors to persuade the audience not to trust what the Estonian government says, not to trust what the press says, not to trust the EU and the EU capitals’ press. So this kind of propaganda, I call it propaganda in Estonia, is one instrument that creates fatigue about Ukraine. The propaganda conveys the message that we, here in the European Union or in Estonia, must deal with our own problems and that we do not have a clear picture of what is going on in Ukraine. Not even Ukrainians know what is happening to them; but Moscow knows – and Moscow knows better than anyone else.
And second point: how to counter all of that? Well, first, you need resources. Dmytro Kuleba already explained what the difference between ordinary warfare and information warfare is. In traditional warfare, it is often easier to defend than to attack. But, in propaganda, it is easier to create a lie. You can create a fake fact of the top of your head in three or five minutes. To communicate real facts, a journalist needs at least two sources to verify the information. This simple arithmetic shows that, in order to defend the truth, you need twice as many resources as the liars (or the Kremlin channels) need. We do not have the necessary resources to start an anti-Russian propaganda, and it is not out role. Estonia has been trying to defend itself against Russian propaganda for 20 years. Again, like Dmytro Kuleba said, we are in a much better position when it comes to countering Russian propaganda than we were 15 years ago. We remain confident that they will never be able to win that war in the future.
On top of resources, you have to use professionals and foreign services for countering propaganda. The work of journalists helps, but the information should come from diplomats. This causes problems, of course, because diplomats do not have the time to create new content. We were faced with a similar situation in 2007 when Estonia was attacked by Russian propaganda. All ambassadors of Estonia got instructed from Tallinn that they had to react to every articles that were generated by Russian propaganda services in the countries they were posted. Not all diplomats liked that, because it was an additional workload, but it worked. From our experience in Estonia, my conclusion is that in foreign countries, especially in Western countries, you have to target sensitive spots, and these are editors. Usually, editors in western capitals do not like to deal with the embassies and ambassadors. If diplomats approach editors saying that they read unprofessional articles in their newspaper or online issue that presents incorrect facts, it will usually have some impact. And although editors will not respond to the message, they will tend to be more careful after that. This usually works.