Deniss Metsavas, at the time an officer in the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF), was arrested and convicted for treason in 2018. He is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence. In an interview with American magazine The Atlantic, Metsavass describes how he was recruited by Russian authorities, and why he forwarded confidential information to them.
The magazine's story published on Wednesday describes how Metsavas grew up in Tallinn's Lasnamäe district, and how after school he spoke sufficient Estonian to join the EDF.
Lured into a honey trap
After almost a decade of military service, and with plans to continue his career in the EDF, Metsavass was lured into a so-called honey trap while on holiday in the Russian city of Smolensk.
After a night with a local woman he had met at a club, he was met by two plainclothesmen the morning after and taken to a local police station, where he was shown a video of his encounter with the woman, and told that the woman had filed a criminal complaint against him, claiming that he had raped her.
According to Metsavas, he was told that they could keep him in, and that he was looking at up to 15 years in a Russian prison. Aware of the conditions in the Russian law enforcement system, Metsavas' only thought was how to get out of this situation as soon as possible.
As he told The Atlantic, he was "arrogant" enough to think that he would able to handle the situation on his own. Afraid for his military career, he didn't talk to the Estonian authorities either.
From simple questions to passing on information about U.S. forces
After a few months of quiet, Metsavas met the man who would become his handler for the first time in 2008. At the time, he was asked simple questions about his private life as well as Estonia's military—according to Metsavas, none of it secret information.
But he was offered money, and he took it: the first step on his way to becoming a Russian spy, he told the magazine.
The conversations that followed in the months and years to come made skilful reference to Metsavas' family. As he describes it, he was never told directly that his relatives may be in danger if he didn't cooperate, but he understood it that way, Metsavas said.
As Metsavas' military career progressed, his handler's questions became more aggressive, and more dangerous, often revolving not only around the EDF, but also Estonia's NATO allies. Metsavas forwarded details about the armament of allied troops as well as its supplies, and was also asked about American units and operations elsewhere, the magazine writes.
As Metsavas wants out, Russians recruit his father
Following a stint in Afghanistan, and having seen war up close and also made three times as much money as usual, Metsavas was planning to leave the EDF, and also tell his Russian handler that he didn't want to work with him anymore.
Perhaps anticipating this, the Russian officers now told him that they had contacted and recruited Pjotr Volin, Deniss Metsavas' father, while he had been away in Afghanistan. Volin had agreed to spy for Russia in exchange for money, and soon became the courier between Metsavas and his handler, as after the kidnapping of an Internal Security Service (ISS/Kapo) officer in 2014, EDF personnel was barred from traveling to Russia.
When in 2015 Metsavas learned he was going to be a father, he had no way back anymore, he told The Atlantic. He married in 2016. When he was finally arrested in 2018, he was prepared, Metsavas told the magazine.
Russian spy, Estonian patriot?
"Somehow I was ready to be arrested," Metsavas said. "I thought about it thousands of times. I just didn't know where, or when, or how it would happen."
The list of those Metsavas betrayed is long, from colleagues to friends to family members to his service to Estonia's Russian minority. As The Atlantic writes, he doesn't blame anyone but himself, and says that if asked which side he would be fighting on in case of a war with Russia, he would fight for Estonia.
Metsavas said that he can see how his stance might be irritating, seeing as he spied for Russia, but at the same made patriotic statements even on TV. While his treason is a part of his identity he hates, being Estonian is who he is, Metsavas said.
At his trial, Metsavas pleaded guilty. He has since cooperated with the ISS.
Editor: Dario Cavegn