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Estonian TV launches first Russian-language channel

September 28, 2015

Estonia’s ERR public broadcaster on Monday launched its first Russian-language channel aimed at the Baltic EU state’s large Russian minority, which until now primarily relied on programming beamed in from Moscow.

“The main goal of the new channel is to create more cohesion in society and to give Russian speakers in Estonia the feeling that they matter,” Darja Saar, head of the new ETV+ channel, told AFP.

The move comes as tensions between the tiny NATO member and neighbouring Russia have surged since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russia rebels and the government.

Ethnic Russians account for one quarter of Estonia’s 1.3 million people.

Many of them rely exclusively on Russian media for information on controversial events like the Ukraine crisis and know more about current affairs in Russia than in Estonia itself.

“ETV+ is a good thing. I want to know what is happening in Tallinn and Estonia,” Vassili, an ethnic-Russian sailor from Tallinn’s mainly Russian suburb of Lasnamae, told AFP. He declined to give his surname.

“I don’t speak Estonian, so for me it has been difficult to know what is happening here,” added a pensioner who only identified herself as Ljudmila.

Media expert and former TV executive Raul Rebane said the new channel has a chance “to do something that Russian TV channels can’t: to build connections, to build up an Estonian Russian identity and a new Russian elite in Estonia.”

The majority of the country’s Russian population arrived after the Soviet Union occupied it in 1944, near the end of World War II.

Estonia broke free from the crumbling USSR in 1990-91, going on to join the EU and NATO in 2004.

Russia on Saturday freed an Estonian officer jailed for spying last month, exchanging him for a Russian spy in a Cold War-style bridge swap.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.