TALLINN – The Kremlin's activists in Estonia talk a lot about the importance of involving young people, but they are not actually interested in involving the young generation, as young activists would jeopardize their incomes, their apparent position in the community and their working relationship with the Russian Embassy, the Estonian Internal Security Services (ISS) said in its latest annual review.
"However, the involvement of people close to the activists in events related to the Russian Federation is encouraged. Generational renewal is encouraged only within the family: the children of former Night Watch activists are now taking over their parents' role," the annual review said.
It observed that work with young people has two main purposes. First, it is a priority of the Kremlin's policy of division, which Russian embassies are required to follow. Second, due to the importance of the topic, youth projects are funded as a matter of priority, which often means a small but stable income for the organizers.
"The state language skills of schoolchildren of various ethnic backgrounds and the quality of their education are directly related to the security situation. This is confirmed by the experience of other Western countries in the field of integration. Although the local Russian youth has little interest in the Kremlin’s politics of division, their motivation and success at school are influenced by their everyday social circle. The support of the family and teachers is important here, as well as the interest and will of local governments to direct children to an Estonian-speaking environment as early as in kindergarten," the ISS said.
According to the ISS, the Kremlin's desire to maintain segregated bilingual education in Estonia in order to divide society has not disappeared. To this end, the activities of NGOs are supported internationally and young people are encouraged to participate in divisive-policy projects. For example, pupils from different schools are involved in the production and dissemination of propaganda on World War II, with the support and knowledge of school heads and teachers.
"The most prominent example of influence activities related to May 9 was the video 'Pobeda 75' made with the participation of pupils at the Tallinn Linnamae Russian Lyceum, in which students in Soviet uniforms perform thematic poems and songs against the background of old documentaries," the ISS said.
"The Kremlin wanted to engage more Russian young people outside Russia through virtual channels while participating in distance learning due to the coronavirus but, at least in Estonia, no noticeable results were achieved. Unlike in previous years, local young people could not be sent to divisive-policy events and virtual events attracted little interest. The influence project 'I Know Russia,' which was established in Russia in 2016, was brought to Estonia to this end. Among other things, the project includes a competition involving assembling map puzzles of Russia and its regions," it said.
The project is supported by the Russian Civic Chamber, the National Anti-terrorism Committee, the Russian Orthodox Church, Rosmolodyozh and others. The Russian Embassy in Estonia was interested in the project, wanting to paint a positive picture of Russia for local pupils. The target group is primarily Russian-language schools that maintain contacts with the embassy, but also educational institutions that use Estonian as the language of instruction.
The ISS said it recommends that Estonian local governments and schools consider the appropriateness of such proposals made on "humanitarian considerations," as in addition to the questionable educational value, there is a danger of supporting the goals of the Kremlin's influence activities. As an example, the map puzzle depicts Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.