Russian authorities in St. Petersburg detain Estonian consul

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St. Petersburg skyline. Source: ERR

Russian authorities detained an Estonian diplomat in St. Petersburg for around an hour-and-a-half on Tuesday. The grounds for his detention was "receiving classified materials", Russian news portal RIA Novosti reported.

Russia's internal security service (FSB) detained diplomat Mart Lätte and stated that his: "Activity is incompatible with the status of a diplomatic worker and has a clear hostile character towards Russia," RIA Novosti reported (link in Russian).

Estonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned the action, calling it a provocation.

The ministry's director of communications Aari Lemmik told ERR that Lätte had been detained for around 90 minutes after leaving a meeting at the Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, on suspicion of obtaining sensitive documents.

She said: "Our response is one of condemnation of Russia's action. It is illegal, a provocation, and damaging to EU member states and the EU as a whole."

"It is in Estonia's interests to have good neighbors and constructive relations with its neighbors," Lemmik said. "We expect Russia to follow the principles of international law in its conduct."

The FSB said on its website that the detainee's activities did not coincide with his diplomatic status and were clearly hostile to the Russian Federation.

"Measures shall be taken in respect of the foreign diplomat in accordance with the rules of international law," the FSB said.

Estonia has a Consul General in St. Petersburg, Eric Laantee Reintamm, who is supported by three Consuls: Mart Lätte, Marika Kõiv-Urm and Margus Haugas.

A similar incident reportedly took place in April when a long-serving Ukrainian Consul to St. Petersburg was detained, on similar charges, and subsequently expelled. Kyiv declared a Russian embassy employee persona non grate as a result, while both countries later expelled on diplomat each.

Also in April, Estonia expelled one Russian diplomat from its soil, in solidarity with the Czech Republic, which had sent away over a dozen members of the Russian diplomatic corps, following allegations that Russian secret agents had been involved in a 2014 explosion at an ammo dump which killed two in that country.

Russia followed suit a week later by expelling an Estonian diplomat. From then until mid-May, Estonia was on a list of states deemed unfriendly to the Kremlin.

Mihkelson: Consul's detention was premeditated provocation

Chairman of the Estonian parliament's foreign affairs committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform) said the action was premeditated provocation, daily newspaper Postimees wrote.

"The fact that they made it public in this way shows that they consciously want such news to reach the media and it can be expected that this will be followed by the expulsion of our diplomat," Mihkelson said.

If Lätte is expelled from Russia, Estonia should make a similar step in response, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee said.

"The aim likely is to disrupt and restrict the activities of not only Estonian but EU diplomats in general. I think it is appropriate for our authorities to consider this if the consul is expelled," Mihkelson said.

Editor's note: Quotes from Aari Lemmik and Marko Mihkelson were added to this article.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright

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