TALLINN – The Tallinn-based Harju County Court on Thursday found Sergei Seredenko guilty of establishing and maintaining a relationship antagonistic to the Republic of Estonia and handed him a sentence of five years and six months in prison, which is close to the maximum term of six years' imprisonment prescribed by law for said offense.
The sentence starts to run from Seredenko's arrest on March 3 last year.
The court established that Seredenko received assets in the amount of at least 5,185.79 euros by committing the crime in question, plus six badges. Since the accused has spent the money received, the court ordered him to pay the corresponding amount as substitution of confiscation. The court also ordered the confiscation of the badges.
Besides, Seredenko must pay 1,635 euros in compensation levies.
According to the charge sheet, Seredenko knowingly established and maintained a relationship antagonistic to the Republic of Estonia during the period from Nov. 15, 2009 to March 3, 2021 with seven persons acting in the interests and on the assignment of the government agencies of the Russian Federation.
Seredenko provided these persons with information, prepared and published articles in cooperation with them, participated in events organized by them and in the activities of organizations aimed at the performance of the influencing activities of the Russian Federation for the foreign and security policy purposes of the Russian Federation, which aimed to divide the society of the Republic of Estonia, discredit the Republic of Estonia and its institutions and violate the constitutional order, independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic of Estonia.
Based on the evidence presented to the court, as well as the foundations of the security policy of the Republic of Estonia and the security strategies and military doctrines of the Russian Federation, the court identified the hostile attitude of the Russian Federation towards the Republic of Estonia and the goal of restoring the position of a great power, for the achievement of which hybrid means of influence are applied to various countries, including Estonia.
In Russia, the application of hybrid means of influence on other countries at the national level is organized by governmental authorities. Estonia has been subject to mainly informational means of influence at the direction of these authorities during the period in question, the court noted.
With regard to Ukraine, Estonia and the other Baltic countries, Russia uses narratives by which it wants to compromise, discredit these countries and show them as backward, Nazi, fascist and malicious.
When there is constant talk that discrimination is taking place in Estonia, that the country is a Russophobic state where Russian-speaking people are being persecuted, this may provide, for example, a formal incentive to protect so-called compatriots in the future. Protection of compatriots, in turn, can lead to various events. For example, the invasion of Ukraine's territory by the forces of the Russian Federation took place precisely on this pretext, the court pointed out.
According to the court, in the actions of the accused in communicating with the seven persons and in spreading hostile narratives against Estonia in various writings on their orders or in coordination with them a desire can be identified to lay the ground for Russia to achieve its goal of regaining the position of a great power by attacking the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, including the Republic of Estonia, precisely through non-violent actions.
On orders from these individuals, Seredenko systematically published writings, the overarching themes of which were claims that there is massive discrimination against the Russian-speaking population in Estonia at the state's level, Russophobia is being fomented, human rights defenders are persecuted, Nazi and fascist ideas are being promoted. There were constant statements in the writings that questioned Estonia's independence, ridiculed and slandered Estonian institutions and leading politicians. The latter were accused, for example, of spreading Nazism and persecuting the Russian-speaking population. Seredenko also spread similar narratives about Ukraine.
In the court proceedings, the main claim of the attorney for the accused and the accused himself was that in his writings and speeches, Seredenko expressed his personal political views and acted as a human rights defender, ombudsman, journalist and researcher, and thus his actions cannot be deemed a criminal offense, as such charge would be a violation of the freedom of expression. The court did not consider these objections justified.
The court established that the accused was repeatedly prescribed the subject matter, content and tonality of the articles, so the objection that the pieces of writing constituted an expression of his own political views is irrelevant. Even if these texts overlapped in content with his own views, it cannot be overlooked that they were written on the orders of persons acting in the interests and on the assignment of Russian government authorities, and the accused was aware of the aim pursued by those people with their activities, that is, the ordering and publication of pieces of writing and presentations.
Chief State Prosecutor Taavi Pern said that, according to the prosecution, the central question of this criminal proceeding was whether Sergei Seredenko was just a socially active lawyer or a person who maintained a relationship antagonistic to the Republic of Estonia in the interests of the Russian Federation, who attempted to conceal the relationship maintained by him in the interests of a foreign country behind the titles of ombudsman, defender of rights, and publicist.
"In the opinion of the prosecutor's office, the evidence collected in the criminal proceedings unambiguously indicates that Seredenko established a relationship antagonistic to the Republic of Estonia with persons acting on the assignment of a foreign state with the aim of undermining Estonia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity," Pern noted.
The Office of the Prosecutor General filed charges in this criminal case in mid-August last year. However, non-violent activities against Estonia have been under even greater scrutiny since February of this year, and the allegations in question have taken on a somewhat different, much deeper meaning.
Seredenko, known as an activist of the Immortal Regiment, was detained by Estonia's Internal Security Service (ISS) on last March 3 on suspicion of acting against the Republic of Estonia.
Before his detention, Seredenko worked as a janitor at Maardu Gymnasium, a high school in the industrial town of Maardu to the east of Tallinn.