Reede, 15 Veebruar 2019 19:00
Estonian Life No. 7 2019 - Laas Leivat
Somewhere “it’s been fantasized (the Kremlin, ed.), that there are groups of Russians abroad who need protection. My mother tongue is Russian. I went to a Russian high school. … But I don’t feel as if I need Russia’s protection. … We have many career Russian soldiers. … who are Estonian patriots. … They know that there is an Estonian state which must be defended.”
Those were the thoughts in 2016 on a TV program of Deniss Metsavas, who was convicted, with his father, Pjotr Volin, on February 11 of treason. Metsavas received a fifteen and a half year and Volin a six year sentence. It became evident that Volin,who had no direct access to delicate information acted as a courier by transporting materials to Russia.
Another person, not employed by any state establishment, was needed to make the visits to Russia. After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Estonia’s internal security service required all government officials to file detailed reports on visits to Russia.
At their arrest in September 2018, the prosecution sated that Metsavas was involved in espionage for the previous five years. But during the current court proceedings it became evident that Metsavas was passing on classified information on Estonian and its partners’ state security for at least ten years having been recruited by the GRU in 2007. In fact it was determined, that Metsavas was tasked by Russian intelligence almost his entire career while serving as an officer, starting from his days at the military academy and rising rapidly on an upward career path to being assigned to the general staff at headquarters. As his responsibilities increased the more damage his treason caused.
Because it would reveal Estonia’s counterintelligence tradecraft, the actual method of recruitment was not revealed. However it’s said that Metsavas was caught up in a situation during the 2007 removal of the Soviet monument from a prominent location in the centre of Tallinn, a predicament from which he could not extract himself and thus began working for the GRU. The government vaguely denies any connection.
It’s possible that Metsavas initially did not agree to co-operate with the GRU and thought that the matter would simply disappear. But his actions could have put him in an entanglement from which there was no escape and agreement with the Russians was the only solution to avoid exposure – in other words submit to blackmail by the GRU.
The prosecution has stated that that Metsavas and his father received no more than 20,000 euros for their work, less than 2000 euros per year. It was added that money wasn’t the only incentive for such a high risk decision. Treason carries a maximum penalty of life in prison in Estonia.
Within eight years Metsavas had achieved the rank of major working ass a fire support officer in artillery to becoming a specialist in the battle support section of military headquarters. (He would have received a regular transfer to the Defence League right at the time of his arrest in September 2018.)
The GRU made a very astute investment in Metsavas. During his period with headquarters he gained access to increasingly important and sensitive information. Estonian national defence depends on the rapid deployment of its reserves to strategically determined positions and duties. Thus quick mobilization is crucial in the country’s defence. Relevant information in this area is invaluable for the GRU.
Both Metsavas and Volin accepted a plea bargaining agreement. It was important that possible evidence presented in court, had the plea bargaining failed, would reveal highly classified information, both domestic and foreign. The prosecution has indicated that the accused showed remorse, even though this wasn’t clear from court proceedings The Estonian Security Police have stressed over the years that anyone who has been contacted by the intelligence service of an adversary country should immediately notify Estonia authorities. The contact itself and a possible (at first perhaps innocent) relationship that develops would undoubtedly be used by the foreigners as recruitment by threat of exposure – coercion.
Since 2008 Estonia has caught 11 individuals involved in treason or other activities, specifically supplying Russian intelligence services with restricted information. All have been charged and convicted.
Estonia’s security/intelligence capabilities have been praised by friendly services. But one may still ask if other foreign moles are embedded in sensitive positions. Authorities will not speculate on this. It’s an intriguing question, that isn’t answered by conjecture.Laas Leivat