Russian propaganda media has undergone a total evolution since its
2008 incursion into Georgia. Its channels and methods now include the Internet, social media and the evolving milieu of amateur and professional journalism and information transmitters.
Russian propaganda has always been replete with an unabashed use of partial truths and blatant fabrications. Traditionally, effective communication and its resultant influence have relied on the critical importance of truth, believability and the avoidance of contradiction.
Moscow has also employed a time-honoured tool in its inventory of propaganda devices. They know that the views of others matter to the target of the prpaganda, especially if the message is relayed from a source that shares characteristics with the recipient and/or is considered to be well-versed about the topic.
’Stopaprop’, a unit of specialists attached to the Estonian Defence League is assigned to monitor Russian disinformation and propaganda, and make recommendations to counter the problem. ’Propastop’ has identified some Estonian citizens who appear often on Russian media either in an invited capacity or by making themselves always available for observations and opinions. The following are some citizens, all of them from the Russian-speaking community. For the Russian viewer they are the typical Estonian resident, representing typical Estonian views and attitudes.
Dmitri Linter is a frequent commentator on Russian TV. He’s often introduced as a political scientist, fighting for Russian rights, publicist and activist. (Linter was one of the leaders of the Nochnoy Dozor advocacy group that opposed the relocation of the Soviet era Bronze Soldier statue in 2007. Arrested for organizing mass riots and destruction of property, he was released on bail after seven months by insisting that the ”was at home keeping contact with the press”. In 2009 he was found not guilty by the courts.) He constantly accuses Estonians of being Russophobic, falsifiers of history, persecutors of Russians. He typifies the classical Kremlin-minded agitator or provocateur.
Yana Toom is seen on Russian TV just as frequently as Linter. Having authoritative presence as one of Estonia’s European Parliament members, she comments on the European Union as well as Estonian politics, being a former member of the Estonian parliament. She advocates for better Estonian-Russian relations and on occasion defends Estonia when on air with Russian ultra-nationalists such as Vladimir Žirinovski. She has excellent on-camera presence and often is the lone female in a group of male panelists.
Rein Müllerson, head of the law faculty at Tallinn University and member of the Putin-friendly Valdai Club of international intellectuals, comments on geo-political issues, world plurality, international law, etc. He is a determined anti-American, placing Estonia within Washington’s national interests. For him having military allies for Estonia is a detriment rather than an asset, Russia’s annexation of Crimea was justified for it avoided a military conflict similar to eastern Ukraine.
Vadim Strutšenko is a youthful political scientist who in the past few years has often appeared on Russian TV channels. His viewpoint is the closest to Estonians’ version of history, the country’s independence and the aggressiveness of Russia. His opinions are so clearly different from the standard political observations on Russian TV, that he often becomes the whipping boy of the Kremlin proxies on discussion programs.
Many other Estonian residents occasional make appearances in the Russian media: actor Kirill Käro, footballer Valeri Karpin, psychic Marilyn Kerro, singer Anne Veski, whose narratives involve their personal activity thus avoiding anything controversial.
Probably the most familiar Estonian personality on Russian TV is Riga resident Aleksandr Gaponenko, a Kremlin mouth-piece, who has been on at least 16 broadcasts in two years. He typically accuses Latvia of persecuting Russians, extending such notions over all of the ’Prebaltika’ area.
It has been suggested that information sourced from groups and individuals to which the viewer/listener/reader belongs is perceived to be credible and therefore also more persuasive. Believability is more likely if others in the same group also consider a source to be believable. Credibility is also enhanced if the same message is received from multiple sources and media and also if the source is identified as a member of the group to which the recipient belongs.
Theorists have pointed out that when information volume is low, recipients tend to favour experts. When information flow is high, recipients tend to favour information from other recipients. Attacking the expertise of on-line sources decreases the likelihood of the reader taking any action-based on what they have read.
Russian propagandists are remarkably flexible and responsive to events since they do not need to verify claims or corroborate facts. They just need to compile and pass on information that best reflect heir themes and objectives. They are known to constantly repeat and recycle disinformation.