Sinisalu: Aivo Peterson wanted to commit an offense against the state

Arnold Sinisalu.
Arnold Sinisalu. Source: Vladislava Snurnikova/ERR

Internal Security Service (ISS) Director Arnold Sinisalu sees no reason why Russia should allow opponents of the Kremlin's regime to enter occupied Ukraine. Former journalist Andres Raid's trip to Donetsk was of interest to the ISS.

The ISS detained activist of the Koos movement Aivo Peterson in March. He is suspected of creating a relationship antagonistic to the Republic of Estonia. What does that mean?

The Penal Code describes it as establishment or maintenance of a relationship with a foreign state with the aim of committing a criminal offence against the [Estonian] state, whether we're talking about non-violent actions aimed against the constitutional order, treason, or other offenses against the state.

However, in order to justify his detention, the ISS had to prove Aivo Peterson's intent to commit an offense against the state.

Yes, that is how it works. You cannot just detain or arrest someone without cause in a democratic country.

How significant was the fact Peterson had visited Donetsk and Mariupol?

I would not emphasize this aspect. It was just one part of Peterson's actions. I'm sure it may be of above-average public interest, while I would not highlight it as the most significant part of his actions.

I presume that the ISS had kept tabs on Peterson and that the criminal investigation was opened some time before?

Definitely. However, I cannot go into any detail here.

Andres Raid also went to Donetsk and occupied Mariupol. Has the ISS looked into how he got there and what he did there?

I would refrain from commenting in any more detail at this time. Time will tell.

But it was of interest to you?

It is completely natural that people who visit the area are of interest to us. While it is not impossible to travel there, not everyone is allowed in. Therefore, we must weigh the circumstances, reasons at play and analyze the whole situation. But I would not pay this matter too much mind.

Is it possible to go there without Russia feeling it benefits in some way?

That would be difficult, yes. Why should they allow people who oppose the regime to go there? I see no reason why they would.

To the best of the ISS's knowledge, how many people of Estonian origin are fighting in Ukraine?

The data is hardly conclusive. There are plenty of people who have been raised in Estonia before going to Russia, getting Russian citizenship and then joining the war. But we are talking about individual people or dozens, not hundreds.

Dozens on both sides?

Something like that.

Have the other side's intelligence activities in Estonia picked up?

It is clear that there is greater need of intelligence information at a time of war. But Estonia has always been of interest to Russia in those terms. The environment has become more difficult for Russian intelligence, which does not mean they're about to quit.

They have started using different methods, which are harder to detect, and we may not be aware of everything. Of course, we are doing our best to obstruct Russian intelligence activity in Estonia as much as we can.

May 9 is looming again. Should the Bronze Soldier remain where it is? For example, the ISS was very much in favor of removing the Narva tank.

It is a different matter in some ways. We must remember that the Bronze Soldier was removed once.

But it is still used as an influence tool.

Of course. But we need to take a wider view. Not everyone who goes there on May 9 poses a direct threat to the constitutional order. It is a war grave for many people, and that is how they remember it.

Others have displayed hostile insignia, while it is not only a national security matter. It is rather a matter of public order.

Politicians suggest that taking away Russian citizens' right to vote in local elections is a matter of national security. Is that how you see it?

I would refrain from beating around the bush here. The problem is that everything tends to be a matter of security lately. There's talk of food security, traffic security and energy security – anything can be [a matter of] security. We need to start by defining what people mean by security.

However, it is first and foremost a matter of legal policy. The situation has often been compared to that in Latvia. But Latvia has never granted citizens of other countries the right to vote. I believe the debate is still ahead of us, and it is not a matter to be decided lightly.

As concerns security from the ISS's point of view, how will these people be involved in deciding local matters in the future if we take away their right to vote? It has been proposed to rather suspend that right during wartime. Personally, I find that to be the more sensible and proportional option. However, I say again that these are legal policy choices above all. It is not wholly up to the security service to decide.

The Tax and Customs Board has registered some 1,500 violations of import and export bans. The ISS has launched relevant proceedings in 45 cases since the start of the war. Why the difference?

Criminal proceedings are more severe and serious. It depends on goods value an other such aspects. We are trying to concentrate on stopping export of dual-purpose goods. I am referring to technology that the Russian army could use.

The other thing is that our resources are very simply limited. We are trying to do as much as we can. However, it makes no sense for us to go after hopeless things no matter what. This is not about statistics, but results.

What do you mean by hopeless things?

Goods moving to Russia based on forged documentation may well do so without the driver's knowledge of what they are doing or where the goods are meant to end up. They are simply driving the truck, which is the extent of their role in organizing export.

These things can be handled differently. The goods can be confiscated by customs, and we do not have to bring criminal proceedings against the driver.

How tight is the net? What part of sanctions violations are we able to detect?

Giving you a percentage would clearly be speculative. But based on what I know from context, Estonia is not considered an easy option. Many other border countries are preferred.

Vadim Konoštšjonok came under investigation by the FBI last year. Estonian authorities had detained him on the border on several occasions before. He was attempting to move ammo for sniper rifles across the border in every single case. And yet, Konoštšjonok was arrested only after they searched his warehouse. Why was he afforded several chances to move ammunition to Russia?

It is a matter of procedural tactics. I'm sure it will be analyzed in court. I also believe it would not be proper for me to discuss these aspects here.

Were criminal proceedings launched the first time?

Yes. But the reason will become clear in court. There are tactical considerations at play.

Before Eerik Heldna moved for pension, he was warned by the ISS that it might amount to a criminal offense. Have you warned other people on rotation from the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) in a similar fashion?

It is very uncomfortable for me to comment on this whole affair. The proceedings kicked off only recently, and claiming that Eerik Heldna was warned is not perhaps fully accurate. He was briefed, while there was a longer conversation with PPA Director Elmar Vaher.

The ISS Annual Review warns of integration issues involving people from an Islamic background. What is the policy recommendation here? Tougher checks or more emphasis on integration?

I believe we need both. The question we need to ask is whether people coming from a completely alien culture who set about building a parallel society here will turn to the police in case of domestic violence, or whether it will be solved by an Islamic clergyman. Whether they will learn the language and adjust to the culture. Whether they will demand certain special conditions.

We need integral solutions on the level of society. It is not just a question of whether to let them in or not, whether to integrate them or not. It is a matter of social attitudes how many people like that are needed here, whether they are needed, how they will learn the language or respect our ways. Nothing about it is black and white.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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