- “Peace activists” blame the government for bringing war to Estonia.
- They consider the war in Ukraine a warning for Estonian politicians.
- Politicians consider the peace movement activists provocateurs.
Aivo Peterson, who is presenting himself as a manual therapist and massage treatment provider, and Oleg Ivanov, who declared himself involvement last year after involvement in oil and crypto-currency business, have been active for the past two months creating a movement allegedly striving for peace at the same time when Russia has started blaming Ukraine for unwillingness to start peace talks and alleged Russian lobbyists have pressured several Western countries to call for an end to the war.
Russia’s desire for peace expressed only in words appeared in the moment when it has failed to achieve the initial goals of the war, advance in Ukraine has come to a standstill and losses in personnel and hardware keep mounting, so that, according to general opinion, Russia will need to take time out in the near future so as to reinforce its hold of occupied Ukrainian territories and gather strength to prepare for a new offensive.
While presenting his Estonian- and Russian-language video call for creating the peace movement “Together” at the Toompea Palace during the Russian Orthodox Easter at the end of April, Peterson said that the goal was to bring a message of peace to every corner of Estonia, including the Riigikogu building. “There is no movement or party in Estonia that says it is in favor of peace,” Peterson said in a statement uploaded to Youtube. “Our parties only talk about war and support for war.”
Ivanov added that the future movement is against Estonia’s direct or indirect participation in any armed conflict. “We are working to ensure that those comrades sitting behind us do not drag military conflicts here,” he said, pointing at the Riigikogu.
In his explanations, which Peterson gave to Postimees in writing because he did not want to answer orally, he cited the sanctions policy imposed on Estonia by the West and numerous hostile statements against neighboring countries and the local people who do not share Estonia’s official opinion as examples of taking a military conflict to Estonia.
The video of the call for peace was posted on Youtube by Elina Esakova, according to the Kremlin-controlled Russian media publication Baltnews.ee a well-known civic activist and co-organizer of the March of the Immortal Regiment, which should commemorate Russian veterans of the Second World War,.
The video has received more than four hundred comments, mainly in Russian, expressing support for the creation of the movement. Peterson did not disclose the number of members, but said that “there are many more of us than we allow the society to see.”
Accusations against Ukraine
The postman asked Peterson whether, in the opinion of his movement, peace should be achieved in Ukraine within its current borders when Russia has occupied part of Ukraine. He did not answer the essence of the question, but wrote that “what is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy and a warning to our [Estonian] politicians of what could happen if they do not negotiate with their own people in their own country”.
When asked whether he thought Ukraine had the right to drive the occupiers out by military force before making peace, Peterson said that Ukraine had a chance over eight long years to find a way to solve the Eastern Ukraine problem. “Unfortunately, and to my personal disappointment, they were not able to do so within the framework of the Minsk agreements,” he wrote. “Which brought along the continuation of this disaster.”
When asked whether he agreed that spreading the message of peace is currently contributing to the perpetuation of Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories, Peterson replied that spreading the message of peace is the only way to continue the existence of a small country like Estonia. “World history need not grant Estonia a third unique opportunity to regain its independence, if we should lose it again because of our own politicians’ stupidity, greed and arrogance,” he wrote. “But such signs are in the air today, because the Estonian political elite have not been at war with Russia, but with its own people for the last 15 years.”
The answer to the question of whether the movement “Together” opposes the Russia-initiated war against Ukraine was that “we are not in favor of any war”.
Both Ivanov and Peterson state in the video address that they abide by the Estonian laws when forming their peace movement. However, the Police and Border Guard Board have initiated misdemeanor proceedings against Peterson for illegal use of an official’s uniform and identity card. As it happened, Peterson worked with the then Border Guard Board almost twenty years ago, but wore the uniform this February, when, three weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he published a video warning to Estonian soldiers, police officers, border guards and Defense League members that they would be drawn into a foreign conflict.
A private individual can possess a police or border guard officer’s uniform and its elements, but may not present himself as an official performing his duties, said Liis Krigul, a spokesperson of the Police and Border Guard Board.
Peterson argued that there were no former police officers, regular soldiers or border guards. “Those who have once reached out a finger to the cause of the state are loyal even after leaving the organization,” he added. According to him, he was forced to leave because after Estonia’s accession to the European Union, his state of health did not meet the requirements set for EU agencies.
Former Prosecutor General Lavly Perling, who became legal adviser on Ukraine’s rule of law reforms last autumn, said of the movement initiated by Peterson and Ivanov that there have always been provocateurs and trolls who need not be taken seriously. The relevant state authorities will probably deal with them, she hoped.
Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee and one of the angriest critics of Russia since the beginning of the war, would not overemphasize the importance of the new movement’s initiators. “It is one thing if someone important says something, but these people are nobodies,” he said. “It’s the same thing when someone wants to get into the media and starts talking nonsense.”
Yet Peterson and Ivanov have gone beyond mere words. They have held an event in Tallinn they called a congress, where, according to Peterson, nearly two hundred people took part, they are forming working groups, hold weekly meetings across Estonia, and plan a congress of the East Viru County Movement, as well as drafting an economic and crisis aid program. According to Peterson, the goal is to launch the process of forming a political party.
Annoyance over money
In response to a question from Postimees whether the pro-Kremlin “Together” movement has attracted the attention of the Internal Security Service, the ISS said that “complicated times have brought very different characters in the streets: some have compelling reasons for frustration, others are adventurers who do their small business by protesting openly”.
It is true that Peterson has repeatedly called on social media to support his movement financially. At the end of April, he posted that something must be wrong in the Estonian society if he has received only 1,800 euros for Estonia’s peace, while more than seven million euros have been donated to Ukraine, plus 220 million euros in weapons aid.
The protest movement as a business idea is a lucrative source of income for some people, the ISS said in a comment sent to Postimees, and advised to maintain a critical attitude towards leaders of donation campaigns and to ask them how the donated money has been used.
While acknowledging that one-sided information spread in the echo chambers of social media has a great influence on people’s behavior, the ISS recommends that the people ignore the activities of provocateurs there and do not allow themselves to be irritated or incited.
Appeals should be reviewed critically
Head of Strategic Communications of the Government Office
It is clear that the social media is used for provocation and as a platform for causing rifts between people, both in Estonia and internationally. Due to the cross-border extent of the social media it carries out the so-called migration of ideas. There are attempts to spread all kinds of initiatives across borders through the social media.
It is important to maintain a critical attitude towards all appeals, including those spread over the social media. One should ask the following questions.
- Who is the source of the information?
- What is the goal of the person sharing the information, what does he want to achieve? If you started to read or listen it, do not go along with your first emotions.
- Does anyone else confirm the shared information and is the sharer reliable?
- When has the information been published?
Having checked the above items, think whether it is necessary to share the message: the algorithms have been designed to further amplify emotional responses.
In conclusion, the social media is not evil a priori, but we must be conscious consumers of the social media and the entire modern information space. Stupidity is not forbidden, but stupidity should not be disseminated through the social media. It is always worth checking the information. It pays to be especially careful when the information is emotional or causes emotion in the recipient.