Russia’s hybrid threat to Estonia

According to NATO, hybrid threats „are those posed by adversaries, with the ability to simultaneously employ conventional and non-conventional means adaptively in pursuit of their objectives”(NATO, no date). Hybrid threats are complex to define, it is rather used as an umbrella term, encompassing a wide variety of existing adverse circumstances and actions, such as terrorism, migration, piracy corruption, ethnic conflict and so on (NATO, no date). Perhaps the most conventional threat is the threat of a military, but if we are talking about Estonia, then today, 26 years on from re-gaining independence, it is also threatened by non-conventional means. Above-mentioned type of hybrid threat, ethnic conflict, is a significant threat that Russia poses on Estonia.

The threats of Russia’s intentions in Estonia have increased particularly since Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2014, where information warfare has played a significant role. Estonia, having a quarter of its 1.3 million population ethnic-Russians, has reason to worry because three-quarters of Estonia’s around 320 000 Russian speakers still watch Russian television (Dougherty and Kaljurand, 2015). Although integration has improved, especially among the young people, the country is still divided into two languages and two information spaces. That is a concern considering Russia’s recent actions, notably in Ukraine, where Russian-speaking minorities are instrumentally used for multifaceted aggression.

Russian propaganda has stepped up since entering Ukraine. It has been supporting the populist movements, whose main argument against the leading parties is the ongoing migration crisis, across Europe. Russia’s aim is to destabilise the European Union, by supporting the populist movements, it creates controversies in states and splits societies. Estonia, with other Baltic states, Latvia and Lithuania, is very much at the forefront of Russian intervention by having many ethnic-Russians living in its country. These people could be used as a tool to interfere local politics.

Russia, knowing that there is many ethnic-Russians in the Baltics watching their news feeds and programmes, is often broadcasting information to influence their thinking against the local governments and the native people. For Russia, it does not want normal relations between ethnic-Russians and the native people. Considering, what has been happening in Ukraine, there is an increasing chance, that Russia may seek to do the same in Estonia and other Baltic states. Putin may look to stir unrest as part of his pledge to protect the interests of Russian speakers anywhere (Ummelas, 2015).

As an example of Russian propaganda, is a news piece on Rossiya-1 TV, a key source for ethnic-Russians in the Baltics, in which a satirical anti-Nazi clip was claimed to be a “promotional” school video and “proof” of Estonia’s support of Nazism (Ummelas, 2015). There are many other programmes and shows on Russian TV where Estonia along with Latvia and Lithuania are told to be russophobic. Another example would be from early this year, from Russian Defence Ministry-owned TV-channel Zvezda, where biased participators debated on the show that was titled “Baltic states without Russia-the end?” (Propastop, 2017). These programmes pose a serious threat to the unity of the Baltic states. Constant brainwashing with these types of shows will most definitely change some ethnic-Russian’s minds in Estonia, and that is not in the favour of local government.


The hybrid threat does not only stand in the information that is shown on Russian TV, it also, has entered Estonia and the Baltics via Sputnik news channel (Rudzite, 2017). In Estonia and Latvia, Sputnik, launched its services in February 2016(Rudzite, 2017). But, knowing the flow of propaganda on this channel, news agencies across the Baltics ceased their cooperation with this Russian government-controlled news agency (Rudzite, 2017). Needs to be mentioned here that the head of Sputnik, Dmitri Kiselyov, has had an EU ban issued against him, due to his significant role in promoting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine (Rudzite, 2017).

It is not only TV that has been used to influence foreign publics. In 2013, Kremlin created national information agency Rossija Segodnja (Kaukver, 2015). Rossija Segodnja runs the above-mentioned Sputnik channel and has also started a media brand called Baltnews (Kaukver, 2015). Its launch in 2014, across Baltics, was aimed to develop multimedia content, added to improving the ability of radio and internet in respective countries.


Considering that Kremlin doubled its media spending from 630 million euros in 2015 to 1.2 billion euros in 2016, the hybrid threat is legitimate (Austrevicius, 2016). What has Estonia’s and EU’s answer been to these massive resources spent on propaganda? NATO launched its Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in 1st of January 2014(NATO Stratcom COE, no date). Its aim being building awareness and understanding and support for NATO’s decisions and operations in today’s information environment and mapping Russia’s information and psychological operations (NATO Stratcom COE, no date). The EU has also launched a parallel body. East Stratcom Task Force was created in 2015 and its mission being planning strategic communication to address Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns (EEAS, 2015). Although Estonia is a member of both bodies, there has been an additional creation by the people who have launched a site called Propastop. Propastop follows Russian disinformation channels and brings out the so called “alternative news” pieces where Russia has been trying to misguide people about Estonia.

Russia has been very aggressive in recent times, pressurising Europe and the West overall with its information war. Estonia, neighbouring Russia, is very much at the forefront of its hybrid threats and Russian propaganda machines are working intensively to influence foreign publics. Interesting fact here is, that per a research done in 2014, it turned out that the will to defend Estonia is high among both native and ethnic-Russian Estonians (Kivirähk, 2014). Ethnic-Russians living in Estonia don’t generally want Putin to come and save them. Despite all the differences between the two ethnicity groups, they ultimately share the same home and the ethnic-Russian people are happy with their European status and being able to freely travel for example. Nevertheless, hybrid threat, that Russia poses in Estonia, EU and the West overall is something that needs to be dealt with. It remains to be seen where this information war will lead to, but one thing is for sure, aggressive action can be seen.


1) NATO, no date,” NATO Countering the Hybrid Threat”, available at (Accessed: 10th of March 2017)

2) Dougherty J. and Kaljurand R., published in 2015, “Estonia’s “Virtual

Russian World”: The Influence of Russian Media on Estonia’s Russian Speakers”, available at (Accessed: 10th of March 2017)

3) Ummelas O., published in 2015, “Estonia Must Counter “Hostile” Russian Propaganda, Adviser Says”, available at (Accessed: 10th of March 2017)

4) Propastop, published in 2017, “Balti riigid taas Kremli televisiooni hambus”, available at

(Accessed: 10th of March 2017)

5) Rudzite L., published in 2017, “Sputnik Has New Troubles in Baltics”, available at

(Accessed: 10th of March 2017)

6) Kaukver T., published in 2015, “ Russia is looking more and more new ways to disseminate propaganda in Estonia”, available at (Accessed: 10th of March 2017)

7) Austrevicius P., published in 2016, “No joke: Russian propaganda poses EU threat”, available at (Accessed: 10th of March 2017)

8) NATO Stratcom Centre of Excellence, no date, available at (Accessed: 10th of March 2017)

9) EEAS, published in 2015, “Questions and Answers about the East Stratcom Task Force”, available at (Accessed: 10th of March 2017)

10) Kivirähk J., published in 2014, “Integrating Estonia’s Russian-Speaking Population: Findings of National Defense Opinion Surveys”, available at (  (Accessed: 10th of March 2017)




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