Shooting triggers Estonian propaganda battle

Two female Estonian soldiers hold their rifle at ready as they take part in the Erna raid in Tallinn (AFP Photo / Raigo Pajula)
Estonian Defense Minister Mart Laar has accused Russia of inciting discontent among local residents against Tallinn’s policies.

­Laar went on to postulate that the man who attacked the Estonian defense ministry last week could have been influenced by “Russian propaganda.” The attacker, lawyer Karen Drambyan, who burst into the building on Thursday, forcing the evacuation of the ministry’s employees, was killed by police. He had reportedly found himself in a difficult economic situation, partly because he had failed to confirm his knowledge of the state language, which is required for all those who wish to work in the public sector or whose work in the private sector affects the public interest.  His apartment had also been sold by court bailiffs on the eve of the attack.

Drambyan, 57, armed with a pistol and packets of explosives, had supposedly intended to reach out to Laar as one of the main ideologues of Estonian nationalism. The minister, however, was not present in the building at the time of the attack.

Initially, the Estonian authorities were unable to explain the incident. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip noted that it looked like “someone has been inspired by the events in Norway,” referring to Anders Breivik’s July 22 attacks.

However, Laar quickly found another explanation for the gunman’s attack in Tallinn. He said it was difficult to say what triggered Drambyan, but stressed that “one possibility we will investigate is whether or not the massive propaganda attack against Estonia was a factor that inspired him.”

The minister told the Washington Times that over the last month, Russia’s Foreign Ministry “had stepped up official attacks on the current government in power in Tallinn.”

Drambyan was reportedly a member of the Estonian United Left Party. Prior to the attack on the ministry, he wrote in his manifesto that the Estonian authorities were “preparing a war against Estonia’s ethnic Russian minority.” About a third of the country’s population are Russian speakers, though many of them do not have the citizenship. Drambyan, an Estonian of Armenian descent, was a lawyer for one of the defenders of the monument to the Soviet soldiers that was relocated in Tallinn in 2007.

But former Prime Minister Laar, once responsible for the rapid implementation of economic reforms, have already got used to looking for “the Russian threat.” He was a founding member of the Foundation for the Investigation of Communist Crimes. Now the minister heads the conservative party Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica.

In early July, Russia’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin suggested that Laar should “take anti-depressants more often” after the Estonian minister stated that in case of a conflict, his country would be able to stop a Russian tank offensive. According to Laar, Estonian partisans, reservists and directed explosive charges would be able to slow down the advance of “Russian tanks.”

“Apparently, the minister’s vivid imagination makes up for the lack of skills and combat readiness of the Estonian Army,” Rogozin ironically remarked.

Laar could have also taken for “propaganda” on the part of Moscow a tough statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry in early August which was released after Tallinn began “a sports and military competition” called Erna Retk 2011. The exercise is named after the Nazi international subversive group in Hitler’s Abwehr intelligence service that operated in the rear of the Soviet army in 1941. Moscow condemned the Erna games, supported by Estonia’s Defense Ministry and the General Staff, as an “act glorifying fascists.”