MOSCOW An activist with a pro-Kremlin youth group said Thursday he and his friends were behind an electronic attack on Estonia two years ago that paralyzed the NATO state's Internet network.
Ex-Soviet Estonia blamed the Russian government for the attack at the time, though Moscow denied involvement. The incident prompted the NATO military alliance to review its readiness to defend against "cyber-warfare."
Konstantin Goloskokov, an activist with Russia's Nashi youth group and aide to a pro-Kremlin member of parliament, said he had organized a network of sympathizers who bombarded Estonian Internet sites with electronic requests, causing them to crash.
He said the action was a protest against the dismantling in 2007 of a Soviet-era monument to the Red Army from a square in the center of Estonia's capital Tallinn. The removal prompted two nights of rioting by mainly Russian-speaking protesters.
"I was not involved in any cyber-attack. What I did and what my friends did was no kind of attack, it was an act of civil disobedience, absolutely legal," 22-year-old Goloskokov told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"Its aim was to express our protest against the policy of soft apartheid which has been conducted by the leadership of Estonia for many years and the climax of which was the dismantling of the ... soldiers' (monument) in Tallinn."
"We made multiple requests to these sites," he said. "The fact that they could not withstand this is, strictly speaking, the fault of those people who from a technical point of view did not equip them properly."
He said his action -- known as a distributed denial-of-service attack -- was his own initiative and he received no help either from Nashi or from Russian officials.
The creation of the youth group was masterminded by Kremlin officials and its activists have had audiences with former President Vladimir Putin, who is now prime minister. Nashi's former leader is now the head of a government agency.
Nashi stages regular protests outside the embassies of Western states with which the Kremlin has disagreements, and its activists picket meetings of opposition parties.
Kristina Potupchik, a spokeswoman for the organization, said it had nothing to do with jamming Estonian Internet sites. "If anything did happen, it was the personal initiative of Konstantin Goloskokov," she said.
Russian officials allege that Estonia routinely discriminates against its Russian-speaking minority and accuse European institutions of turning a blind eye.
The decision to move the Red Army monument in Tallinn was seen in Moscow as a deliberate snub to the sacrifices the Soviet Union made to liberate eastern Europe from German occupation during World War Two.
But Estonians, like many eastern Europeans, say Nazi rule was replaced by decades of brutal Soviet repression which only ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Estonia's government denies discriminating against Russian-speakers. It said the presence of the Red Army monument in the center of the capital was causing public order problems, and moved it instead to a military cemetery.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)