Date: 14 April 2017

A GRU Spy in Estonia

Estonian counterintelligence, namely the Security Police (Kaitsepolitsei, KaPo), has arrested a Russian national who, according to the Estonians, is an employee of Main Intelligence Agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, i.e. the military intelligence agency GRU.


Arnold Sinislau, the head of KaPo, has informed that criminal proceedings have been instigated in the case. As Inna Ombler, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, has reported, the man suspected of subversive activity has been detained by court’s decision. He is facing 10 years of imprisonment. The man was arrested already in January, but the authorities informed about the fact only recently. KaPo has declined to say if the man has Estonian residence permit. Thus the alleged spy may be a local Russian with a passport of the Russian Federation (a Russian minority group living in Estonia is quite substantial – a remnant of the Soviet occupation) or a visitor from Russia. If the allegations are confirmed, this will be the first case of capturing a GRU spy in any of three Baltic States. So far, only agents of civic intelligence, namely FSB and foreign intelligence SVR, fell into the hands of local intelligence services.

The main object of interest of Russian intelligence in Estonia are local defense structures and facilities, the army, as well as NATO soldiers deployed there, and NATO infrastructure in general. The information about arresting a GRU agent coincided with publication of the annual report on KaPo activities in 2016. According to the said report, last year two men with dual Estonian-Russian citizenship were detained, suspected of collaboration with FSB, i.e. Russian civil security service. The court found both of them guilty of espionage and convicted them respectively for two years and six months and three years in prison.

Estonian counterintelligence is highly esteemed by NATO. It is considered as one of the most effective among the allied services of this kind. Built from scratch after Estonia regained independence in 1991, Estonian counterintelligence was much more immune to infiltration of Russian secret services than counterintelligence in other post-communist and post-soviet states. Already in 1990s, British intelligence established close cooperation with KaPo, and KaPo may boast of being highly effective in capturing Russian spies. The best-known case was the 2009 arrest of Herman Simm, a former employee of KaPo, and later a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Defense, who after Estonia joined NATO had access to secret information of the Alliance and its member states. Simm worked for SVR. In Brussels he is still considered as a Russian spy who caused greatest damage to NATO’s security since the end of cold war. Simm was sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison.

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