Estonian security officer kidnapped, taken to Russia

In a sensational announcement Friday Estonia's internal security service, KAPO, said that one of its agents had been abducted from Estonian soil close to the Latvian border and taken across the border into Russia.

“On September 5th about 9 in the morning the KAPO officer was abducted while on-duty on Estonian territory by unknown individuals who came from Russia. He was captured using force at gunpoint. He was fulfilling his duties preventing cross-border criminal activity. The abductors jammed radio communication and used smoke grenade,” a KAPO statement said, adding that a criminal investigation had started.

According to national broadcaster ERR, the kidnap took place near Misso, in the extreme south-east of the country on the border with Russia. The Latvian border is around 10km away.

The strategic location makes it an important one for smugglers as it is where the main E77 road route to Moscow passes from Latvia briefly through Estonia to the Luhamaa border checkpoint.

While the likelihood is that criminal gangs are responsible for the abduction, the facts that the abduction could be carried out so professionally and that the victim could be smuggled back across the border without attracting the attention of Russia's notoriously pernickety border guards and custom officials will raise questions about official complicity.

ERR reported that the Estonian Foreign Ministry had summoned Russia's ambassador, Yuri Merzlyakov, to demand an explanation.

Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said he expected "full assistance and cooperation" from Russia in returning the victim.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said via his Twitter feed:
 

In a statement late on Friday, the Latvian Foreign Ministry said it was "deeply concerned" by the incident.

"We support Estonia's desire to get the necessary support from Russia for the clarification of all circumstances of the incident and the release of the security officer," the statement said.

The Russian Itar-TASS news agency quoted a statement by Russia's Federal Security Bureau (FSB) claiming the Estonian agent was based in Tartu and had been captured on Russian soil in possession of a gun and 5,000 euros in cash while engaged on an undercover mission - which suggests Russian security officials were indeed behind the kidnap rather than criminals.

KAPO has a reputation about being unusually forthcoming about even potentially embarrassing information such as this. Most famously, KAPO went public in 2009 with information that Herman Simm, a senior security official in the defense ministry had been acting as a Russian double agent.

In this case disclosure is doubly important as in the current geopolitical situation border posts are potential flashpoints.

Estonia had extra security in place at all of its border points in recent days due to the visit of US President Barack Obama, though posts returned to their usual regime on September 4. 

One of the darkest periods in recent Baltic history came when Russian OMON forces attacked Lithuanian border points in 1991, killing 8 and injuring more than 60. Russia has ignored Lithuanian requests for suspects linked to the murders to stand trial.

 

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