Major escalation: Russia reportedly abducts Estonian intelligence officer at gunpoint

Only days ago, President Barack Obama traveled to the NATO member state of Estonia where he delivered a powerful speech addressing Russian aggression in Ukraine and pledged that the Atlantic alliance would not ignore Moscow’s provocations. On Friday, Russia responded with a significant escalation of hostilities with NATO by reportedly capturing one of Estonia’s counterintelligence officers at gunpoint.


“An official from the Internal Security Service (ISS), Estonia’s national agency for counterintelligence and high-profile corruption investigations, was abducted at gunpoint at Luhamaa border checkpoint this morning where he was discharging service duties, and taken to Russia,” read a disturbing dispatch from the Estonian Public Broadcasting service.

Arnold Sinisalu, director general of the ISS said that Estonian and Russian border guards met for a briefing at the Estonians’ initiative at 13:00. The Russian side said it had no reports of the incident. Both sides visited the scene and established that there were signs of a violent struggle. Sinisalu added that there was no indication of a firefight.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent for Russia’s ambassador to Estonia, Yuri Merzlyakov, to ask for an explanation. Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said: “This is a very galling incident. We expect full assistance and cooperation from Russia in resolving the incident and bringing the Estonian citizen back to Estonia.”

He said the Estonian Embassy in Moscow was in contact with the Russian Foreign Ministry as well.

The government in Tallinn immediately summoned the Russian ambassador to answer for what appears to be a significant provocation. As Vox’s Max Fisher observed, the officer abducted was responsible for counterintelligence and countering organized crime rings, so his targeting could have been perpetrated by Russian mafia as much as it might have been directed by Moscow.


However, he also accurately noted why a Russian operation to destabilize Estonia had been predicted for some time:

One quarter of Estonia’s population is ethnic Russian — even larger than in Ukraine — and much of it concentrated on the border with Russia. Estonia’s third-largest city, Narva, is about 90 percent Russian; just the sort of majority Russian enclave the Putin has asserted control over in Ukraine, and to a lesser degree in Georgia and Moldova. And Estonia, even more so than Ukraine, since breaking away from the Soviet Union has aligned itself with the West against Russia.

In 2007, operatives linked to Moscow executed a major cyber attack on the country which paralyzed the nation for days. That attack came after Moscow protested the removal of a Soviet-era statue from the center of Estonia’s capital city.

UPDATE: Via BuzzFeed’s Miriam Elder, Russian security services have admitted to detaining an Estonian CI officer, but they insist that the individual had crossed into Russian territory.

Hours later, Russia responded to the growing media storm inside Estonia by acknowledging the detention but presenting an entirely different version of the event, saying an Estonian security official had been arrested in Russia’s northwestern Pskov region, which borders Estonia.

The FSB released a statement naming the official and identifying him as a member of police security based in Tartu, an Estonian university town not far from Russia. The statement said he was detained “on the territory of the Russian Federation,” the Itar-TASS news agency reported. It said police had seized a gun, 5,000 euros and “materials that have the character of an intelligence mission.”


UPDATE: Estonia’s president disputes Russia’s claim that the abduction occurred on Russia’s side of the border:

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David Strom 6:00 PM | February 27, 2024