Propaganda, Information War and the Estonian-Russian Treaty Relations: Some Aspects of International Law

Author:Arnold Sinisalu
Position:Director of Department, Security Police Board

1. Introduction - 2. Clarification of Some Terms - 3. Two Significant Treaties between Estonia and Russia - 3.1. Peace Treaty of 1920 - 3.1.1. Arguments by the Russian party - 3.1.2. Estonia's arguments - 3.2. Treaty on foundations of Estonian-Russian relations of January 1991 - 3.3. Questions raised - 4. Events of April 2007 and their impact on international law - 5. Conclusions


Arnold Sinisalu

Director of Department, Security Police Board

Propaganda, Information War and the Estonian-Russian Treaty Relations: Some Aspects of International Law

1. Introduction

Observation of the Estonian and international mass media reveals that propaganda issues became especially sensitive in the relations between Estonia and Russia in the first months of 2007, and tempestuous in April and May of the same year, when a memorial dating back to the Soviet occupation, known as the Bronze Soldier, was removed from Tõnismägi, Tallinn. The events came to be known as the Bronze Night after the ravages in Tallinn and East-Viru County over two nights, which occurred as a result of the (at that time still only planned) removal of the monument. Dmitry Rogozin, a former member of the Russian State Duma, who has served as an Ambassador of the Russian Federation to NATO since autumn 2007, declared to the news agency Rosbalt on 19 April 2007, i.e. before the displacement of the memorial, that Russia should use force: "I think that desecration of the eternal peace of the tomb is a basis for war. [...]. An armed operation by a special unit would be a nice response to the provocative behaviour of fascists [author's highlight - A.S.]."1 Because of attacks on computer networks at that time, which the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered a new chapter in the history of cyber conflicts, the Estonian press as well as statesmen and civil servants began to refer to the event as an information war between Estonia and Russia [author's highlight - A.S.]2. Is the claim that the propaganda became so exceptionally severe in 2008 true? In reality, wars of words have occurred quite often between our two countries. Instead, it is those moments when propaganda has not caught the attention of the public that should be considered exceptional. It turns out that historically, propaganda has affected the legal relations between Estonia and Russia. This article poses the question whether and to what extent the legal relations between Estonia and Russia have been affected by propaganda and whether this has had a wider effect on international law. In this article, I will examine the historical background of Estonian-Russian international legal relations in order to clarify the situation that had developed by 2007.

2. Clarification of Some Terms

Before turning to the actual research question and subject matter of the article, let us first clarify some basic concepts and notions. It must be emphasised that I will be discussing concepts that are often not regarded as primarily legal concepts - even if they have, as in the Estonian-Russian historical context, a legal dimension. Propaganda has a historical background in the relations between Estonia and Russia. Before explaining how, let us take a closer look at the notion itself. It is a historical fact that the notion of propaganda came to be used at the beginning of the 17th century, when in 1622 Pope Gregory XV founded an organisation, intended for Roman Catholic missionaries, called Sacre Congregatio De Propaganda Fide3. Philip M. Taylor, Professor of International Communication of the University of Leeds, has expressed the opinion that in Protestant societies, the word is still perceived as unpleasant because of its historical background4. Encyclopædia Britannica defines propaganda as follows: dissemination of information - facts, arguments, rumours, half-truths, or lies - to influence public opinion5. According to Soviet ideology, propaganda was meant for shaping a certain world view among the public, while so-called Western propaganda was meant to tie the public to the prevailing ideology, theory and information by the ruling class6. When looking at the ideology and acts of present-day Russia, we may say that some things have changed. The distinction between the so-called capitalist and Soviet propaganda has disappeared and the existing definition is a mix of both ideologies7.

Propaganda is perhaps the best-known notion, yet it is only one of the tools in communication between countries, which is aimed at imposing one's will on the other party to achieve political, military or social goals; such a set of measures may also be referred to as subversive leverage8. When it comes to furnishing the notion of propaganda (as part of psychological war) with content and its analysis in international law, subversive leverage is usually seen as a whole set. An information war is a considerably wider domain than simply propaganda9. Ingrid Detter Frankopan, Professor of International Law, has in her work defined four types of war and identified the subcategories of each type. This typology does not include information war10. When clarifying the legal problems at the core of this article, we cannot overlook the notions of Russian special services. In the USSR, subversive leverage was defined as active measures, i.e. operational activities of intelligence and counter-intelligence services, aimed at affecting the political activities of the target country, to take over initiative from the other party by using deception and undermining the enemy positions as well as by altering their plans in a manner that was necessary for achieving the foreign policy goals of the country taking measures of subversive leverage11. The article that describes the subversive leverage of Russia and the former Soviet Union contains a presentation made by the United States Information Agency (hereinafter: USIA) to the US House of Representatives in June 1992, which gives an overview of active measures. It is a Soviet term that refers to the use of manipulative techniques in the dissemination of information, including the selective use of slogans (a memorable political or commercial text that had military origins!12 ), disinformation and true information in substantiating their positions by persons who directly or indirectly wish to affect the positions and decision-making process of persons who have a decisive impact on the public of the country of location and thus also on the policy-making of the country13. The three main methods of subversive leverage are explained, which are called white or grey or black, respectively, according to the peculiarities of the tools and tactics used14. White or public measures are seen to include the information management of the public press and information services, both in their home country and through the information activities of embassies located abroad15. Grey or semi-public measures are seen as activities in which movement of information is administered through non-profit organisations and political parties, and subversive leverage16. Black or covert measures are regarded as undercover working of special service officials in news agencies17. It should also be noted that the USIA agency was established during the Cold War, in order to withstand Soviet Union propaganda18. In the United Kingdom and US, the notion of covert action is used instead of subversive leverage, but in a slightly narrower sense than in the case of the active measures of the former Soviet Union19.

3. Two Significant Treaties between Estonia and Russia
3.1. Peace Treaty of 1920

Clause 5 of Article VII of the Tartu Peace Treaty, entered into between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on 2 February 1920, (hereinafter: Estonian-Russian Peace Treaty) provided: "Not to authorise the formation or presence in their territory of any organisation or groups whatsoever, which claim to govern the whole or part of the territory of the other Contracting Party, or the presence of representatives or officials of organisations and groups, whose object it is to overthrow the Government of the other party to the Treaty."20 This article prohibits the activities of organisations whose success inevitably and most directly depends on propaganda as it is impossible to achieve a change in state power without the involvement of a sufficient number of people. Furthermore in order to involve people, it is necessary to incite them to act. Propaganda is generally used to affect people to involve them in some sort of activity. L.J. Martin cited the Tartu Peace Treaty, entered into between Estonia and Russia in 1920, as an example of prohibition of propaganda in international law21. Below, I will examine some arguments presented by individuals participating in the conclusion of the Estonian-Russian Peace Treaty in 1920, as well as by their contemporaries, which indicates the importance of the role played by propaganda in signing the Treaty.

3.1.1. Arguments by the Russian party

A book on the Tartu Peace Treaty, published during the Soviet occupation, gave the following overview of the Russian positions for concluding the peace treaty: "At that stage of the negotiations, the Russian delegation mainly emphasised guarantees of actual security, which had to preclude the possibility that the Estonian territory could be used as a military platform against Soviet Russia, as it had happened in 1919. Already at the opening session of the conference, L. Karassin had emphasized: Without a certain guarantee that the peace will not transform simply into a military manoeuvre that is used to better prepare for a new bloodshed, we will not sign the treaty."22 The author of that monograph has worded the introduction to the chapter as "the principal position of the Soviet party"and noted that the draft Peace Treaty contained a clause that prohibited "the presence in the...

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