Update: 'Abducted' Estonian Security Police Official Held in Moscow Jail (7)

9/6/2014 6:48 PM
Category: Main news

Russian media have reported that a Moscow court has remanded to custody the Estonian security police official who was reportedly kidnapped by FSB, the Russian federal security agency, from the Estonian side of the border on Friday morning.

That report on Pervyi Kanal, and interviews with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet earlier in the day on Postimees daily (which embedded video from RT) and other media sites, including uudised.err.ee, were the first confirmation of the whereabouts of Eston Kohver.

Lenta.ru, a Russian site, said - according to a report on the Delfi site - that Kohver is suspected of espionage, smuggling firearms into the country and illegal border crossing. "It can't be ruled out that this will be used to send a message" in a judicial process, Delfi speculated, saying that the gravity of the charges could signal difficulty for Estonia in getting Kohver back soon.

Ministry or consular officials have apparently still not been able to meet Kohver, although talks with the Russian Foreign Ministry have been under way.

According to the Internal Security Service (ISS), Estonia's national agency for counterintelligence and high-profile corruption investigations, Kohver was abducted at gunpoint on Friday morning at Luhamaa border checkpoint, where he was discharging service duties.

Initially there was little indication it was necessarily more than an isolated criminal incident, but the use of a smoke grenade and jamming hinted at a more sophisticated operation. Within several hours it had developed into a diplomatic row, with the Estonian and Russian intelligence agencies advancing completely opposite versions of the events.

The report of the abduction broke around 16:00 on Friday, seven hours after it happened. At about 19:00, the FSB, the Russian security agency, was first to mention the name of the agent, Eston Kohver, which was later confirmed by the ISS. That was the only detail consistent in the versions, with the Russians putting forward a claim that Kohver was captured on the Russian side, albeit without evidence. Nor did the Russian side deny the Estonian claim that local Russian border guards agreed that the would-be kidnappers crossed into Estona to abduct Kohver.

The ISS says Kohver was investigating a crime - evidently smuggling-related - while the FSB has said Kohver was in Russia to meet with a contact and that 5,000 euros and a mission brief were found on Kohver's person.

All ISS officials are strictly prohibited from traveling to Russia.

Over the last 10 years, Estonia has apprehended four Russian moles in the ISS - similar in model to the American FBI. The ISS has won plaudits from the international press for being one of the most successful agencies in weeding out infiltrators in what many consider a new Cold War between Russia and the West.

The incident Friday morning also took place in the far southeastern corner of Estonia near a major highway between Pskov, Russia, and Riga. The area in which Kohver was taken is forested, isolated and thinly populated. In the absence of a formal Estonian-Russian border treaty, the border is not demarcated or heavily fortified, athough it is well guarded.

Estonian ISS officers have seen action before in the south, with one official killed in a shootout involving Estonians smuggling weapons across the border in 2011, but never any direct standoff with Russian federal agencies.

With tensions already running high over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, statements from the Estonian president and prime minister on Friday expressed shock and dismay over what was seen as a breach of sovereignty and procedural conventions on the part of Russia.  

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the first name of the captured officer. It is Eston.


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