Russian border guards have detained 23 people from South Asia near Pechory on Thursday who were trying to illegally cross the so-called green border (i.e., not through border crossing points) to Estonia, the regional daily Lõuna Postimees reported.
Over the past week, Russian and Estonian border guards have intercepted a total of 50 illegal border crossings in the Pechory (Estonian: Petseri) area, six of whom had no documents allowing them to leave Russia and are reportedly under criminal investigation, while the others face fines and deportation from Russia, the daily wrote.
In addition to the 23 people detained on Thursday, Russian border guards detained eight people attempting to cross the border into Estonia in the same region on December 27 and 11 people on December 23, while Estonian border guards detained eight people illegally entering Estonia in the rural municipality of Setomaa on December 21.
Security expert Erkki Koort said that these incidents were not related to the influx of people that recently caused Finland to close its border crossings and who would now be trying to find their way to Europe via Estonia.
"It doesn't seem to be the case. /.../ There was a North African contingent in Finland, while this is a different group of people. It cannot be ruled out that some middleman has gotten out of jail and is trying to get back into business," Koort told the daily.
Earlier Rus ERR reported that people were helped from large Russian cities to the border crossings with Finland for a certain amount of money.
Koort said that these arrests do not seem to indicate that Russia is launching a hybrid attack against Estonia, as it has done against Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and most recently Finland, but that this is a self-initiated activity by some individual smugglers.
"We have increased the number of patrols and have also deployed additional mobile surveillance equipment to the border," Arvi Suvi, head of the Saatse cordon in Võru County, told Lõuna Postimees.
Pechory is the center of Setomaa or Petserimaa. The town emerged and developed around an Orthodox monastery in the 15th century and has grown into one of the most important centers of Orthodoxy in Russia.
Petseri County was a county of Estonia established in 1918, but it became Russian territory in 1944 (and again in 1991). Estonia retains the part of the region that is now known as Setomaa rural municipality in Võru County.
Editor: Kristina Kersa
Source: Lõuna Postimees