Transitions Online 28 September 2015
Russia has freed the Estonian counterintelligence officer Eston Kohver, who was jailed for spying and other charges last month, exchanging him for a Russian spy in a “cold war-style bridge swap” ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the UN General Assembly today, The Guardian reports.
Kohver, who had been sentenced to 15 years, was exchanged on 26 September for Aleksei Dressen, a former Estonian security official serving a 16-year sentence for spying for Moscow, Russia’s FSB security service said in a statement.
Kohver’s defense lawyer, Mark Feigin, said the swap was timed to soften the Russian president’s image ahead of his first appearance at the UN General Assembly in over than a decade, when he is expected to speak mainly about Syria and the fight against Islamic State.
"It's all happening ahead of Putin's visit to the UN...There are no other reasons," Feigin tweeted (in Russian).
Estonian Interior Minister Hanno Pevkur said that the swap, which took place on a bridge over the Piusa River, dividing the two countries, had been made possible after Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Putin issued pardons for Dressen and Kohver, respectively, The Guardian reports.
“Eston Kohver – a tough, determined and loyal civil servant of the Republic of Estonia – is now back home again, reunited with his wife and four children. Today, we will remove the yellow ribbons that demonstrated our hope and support for [his] return home.” – Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said in a press statement.
At the time of Kohver’s arrest in August, Estonia said he had been abducted at a forest border crossing while investigating smuggling cartels possibly linked to Russian security officials. The Estonian Interior Ministry said in a 26 September statement that his "illegal detention –a clear and grave violation of international law – is finally over."
• Estonia says Kohver was performing official duties of gathering information on cross-border crime related to smuggling and corruption when abducted. Russia’s FSB admitted the abduction but did not acknowledge that it happened on Estonian territory.
• The European Parliament had urged Russia to release Kohver, along with Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civil activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, whose detentions they said were brought about by "illegal kidnapping" and "blatant violation" of the countries' territorial integrity.
• Dressen, a former officer in Estonia's security police, was found guilty of passing secret data to Russia for years after Estonia's independence in 1991. He was arrested in 2012 along with his wife, who was given a suspended sentence, the BBC writes.
• Estonia, which has a large ethnic Russian population, launched a new television channel today created expressly for the minority group in a move to counter what the EU has described as the Kremlin’s infowar, The Moscow Times reports.
Putin pardoned [Estonian] counterintelligence officer ahead of first speech at UN in over a decade.