A victim of circumstance or deliberate campaign?
Beginning last Friday false information was posted on Russian language internet forums. The claim was that the Estonian crown (kroon, EEK) is to be devalued forthwith — in fact, suggesting that the Estonian government has decided to devalue the currency by over 50%.
The home page of the “Night Watch” (Nochnoi dozor) had posted details: the Euro would then be worth only 24.64 crowns; all bank machines would be inoperable from 23:00 on; and that the devaluation would take effect at 4:00 am. (The Night Watch organization follows Kremlin dictates, ostensibly guarding “Russian interests” in Estonia.)
The details were specific: banks would compensate account holders to a limit of 20,000 crowns (approx $2,000 CAD). Anything above this limit would be frozen until the next government decision. On some, but not all internet sites, the above information was designated as a “training exercise”.
The sites did not mention that the devaluation of the crown requires both a parliamentary and governmental decision. The Bank of Estonia insisted no plans exist for devaluation and the current course of 15.64 EEK per EURO will remain until the adoption of the EURO.
The false information about the crown being devalued caused a panic among the Estonian Russian community, who emptied many currency exchange bureaus of widely held foreign currencies.
Estonian parliamentarian Keit Pentus stated that the incident might have positive consequences: the Russian-speaking community had up to now depended on Russian-language internet forums to provide credible information. Now they are more likely to trust government-based information as sources of crucial information.
While Estonia does not intend to prosecute individuals involved in distributing this type of blatantly false information, and while the economic damage was evidently marginal, the experience points to the vulnerability of a small country to “instant information”. One is reminded of the Moscow-initiated cyber war in April, following the relocation of a Soviet era statue to a military cemetery.
It is ironical that cyber-based and internet-distributed attacks can be successful against a country that has one of the most sophisticated IT oriented communities in the world, has a very high internet connection rate, and uses the internet for most government and business transactions. From a different perspective, this very same condition might make Estonia more vulnerable than others.
It would be highly dramatic, perhaps even paranoid to suggest that Estonia has become the proving grounds for new high-tech, non-traditional weapons of international aggression. At the most this latest devaluation campaign was a meek attempt at the economic front. Without blood-letting, body counts and physical destruction these methods don’t elicit much international concern. Neither are defence alliances such as NATO meant to counter non-military threats.
While Estonia’s composure in independently riding out various “crises” has attracted favourable international reaction, the real culprit has yet to be publicly identified and condemned. Thus one still hopes that more serious threats would result in a collective rally to the defence of an international partner.
Destabilization of Estonian currency (5)