Russia appears to be willing to test the patience of all of its European neighbours, as Estonia lodges a formal complaint that one of their intelligence officers has been captured by Russian FSB troops on Estonian territory:
A strange incident near the Russian-Estonian border on Friday ended with an Estonian intelligence officer in Russian custody and the two countries trading sharply contradictory allegations about what happened.
Estonia’s president and prime minister, among other officials, said the officer had been kidnapped at gunpoint from their territory and forced across the border in a blatant violation of sovereignty. The Russian Federal Security Service said the officer was in Russia and engaged in a clandestine operation when he was detained.
The episode threatened to heighten tensions between Russia and the NATO alliance, to which Estonia belongs, at a time when relations are already severely strained over the conflict in Ukraine. It came just two days after President Obama gave a speech in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, pledging that NATO would defend the Baltics against Russian aggression and suggesting that any attack on them would lead to war with the West.
Although the intelligence officer was apparently detained around 9 a.m., the Russian security service, known as the F.S.B., did not acknowledge the incident until Friday evening, when it issued a statement to three Russian news agencies.
Senior Estonian officials, including the director of the country’s Internal Security Service, held a news conference in the late afternoon, saying the officer had been abducted after unknown assailants set off a stun grenade and jammed communication signals. At the time of his capture, the officer was investigating a criminal case in the area of Luhamaa, Estonia, a little more than a mile from the border with Russia, officials said, according to Estonian news reports.
Update, 7 September: The Interpreter‘s Ukraine Liveblog included this information today.
Eston Kohver, an Estonian intelligence officer who was, according to Estonia, abducted and taken across the border to Russia yesterday, has appeared in Moscow, where he is being detained. The Estonian authorities reported that smoke grenades were used and that there were signs of a violent struggle. In addition, it was reported that communications signals in the area were jammed at the time of the reported abduction.
Meanwhile the FSB claimed yesterday that Kohver had been arrested on Russian territory, in the Pskov region.
Interfax reports that Russia’s state-owned Channel One announced today that the Lefortovo Court has approved Kohver’s detention on suspicion of espionage.
Here is video from Russia’s Ruptly news agency showing Kohver being taken out of a car and into a pre-trial detention centre (known in Russia as SIZO). The footage also shows a display of the items that the FSB has claimed that were found on Kohver including 5,000 euros in cash and a Taurus pistol.