Long legal battle looms for tug-of-war Estonian agent

By bne IntelliNews September 12, 2014

Mike Collier in Riga -


Estonia has continued to drum up international support for one of its internal security agents, Eston Kohver, after he was formally charged with espionage by Russia.

Tallinn insists Kohver was seized from Estonian territory on September 5 while performing his duties battling smuggling and cross-border crime.

Moscow says he had strayed into Russia armed with a pistol, cash and spying equipment on a covert mission when he was nabbed by their officials who were conveniently lying in wait in the middle of thick forest in the remote border zone.

A statement released by a joint meeting of the eight Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers in Tallinn on September 12 said: "Eston Kohver was taken by force to Russia and is being held in custody in Moscow ... We call on Russia to immediately release Eston Kohver and ensure his safe return to Estonia.”

On September 11 Russian authorities announced that  Kohver was being charged with espionage, which carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years. "Eston Kohver has been charged officially with espionage, that is, Article 276 of the Criminal Code," his lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, told Interfax. Polozov is himself something of a celebrity having previously (unsuccessfully) defended controversial art-pop combo Pussy Riot in their trial on charges of hooliganism in 2012.

Estonia took the unusual measure of releasing a Russian-language protocol on September 11 that was signed by Russian border guards in the immediate wake of the incident which seemed to show that they agreed Kohver was in Estonia when the disputed incident occurred.

However, Russian border guards failed to show up for a scheduled meeting with their Estonian counterparts the same day, as Moscow ignored western pleas for Kohver's return and instead seemed set on pursuing him through  the Russian legal system.

On September 11 the European Union issued a statement saying: "We are concerned by the abduction on September 5 of Estonian police officer Eston Kohver by the Russian Security Services on Estonian territory near the Estonian-Russian border. Such action by the Russian Federation runs against international law and the principle of inviolability of borders.

“The EU Delegation in Moscow has been in contact with the Russian authorities asking for a swift resolution to the matter. We call for an immediate release of Mr Kohver and his safe return to Estonia."

However, with the EU announcing fresh sanctions against Russia on September 11 and  Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves embarking on a four-day Ukrainian tour, Kohver’s  quick release looks unlikely.

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