One claims kidnapping; the other claims lawful arrest. On Friday, September 5th, an Estonian man disappeared on the cusp of the Estonian-Russian border, near the town of Luhamaa, Estonia. Officials in Estonia report that Eston Kohver, working for the Internal Security Service, was kidnapped on domestic territory and forcibly taken into Russia, where he is currently being detained. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) states that the Estonian man was on Russian ground during the altercation, near the Pskov region of Russia, involved in a clandestine operation, and they therefore had the legal authority to detain and charge the individual. Kohver is said to have been carrying 5000 Euros in cash, a Taurus pistol, and “materials that have the character of an intelligence mission.”
Police spokesperson Harrys Puusepp said “We have proof he was definitely on Estonian ground. In that area the Estonian border is not fenced, it’s bushes, high grass and forest. There’s no line on the ground but everyone knows where it goes, it’s recognized by both sides,” proving Estonia has no plans of backing down to Russia, and will stand behind Kohver.
While investigators at the scene of the event have detected signs of a struggle, there are no signs of blood nor indications that shots were fired. During the event, local Estonian radio channels are said to have been jammed—reinforcing the suspicion to Russian encroachment on Estonia.
The State Prosecutor of Estonia announced in a public statement that “The use of smoke grenades and intense interference with operative radio connections preceded the incident. Unidentified persons coming from Russia took the freedom of an officer of Estonian Security police officer on the territory of Estonia. The officer was taken to Russia using physical force and at gunpoint. The officer was fulfilling his duties in connection to preventing a cross-border crime in taking place.”
President Obama paid a visit to Estonia on September 3rd to discuss NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) security for the Balkans. Estonia is one of five NATO countries that border Russia; one of five countries that greatly rely on the support of the rest of NATO in the event of Russian aggression. Obama reassured Estonia that the US would stand in solidarity them and their fellow Balkan nations if Russia were to use military action from the East.
The coincidental proximity of these events does all but reinforce Obama’s words of protective backing. This could be Russia prodding Western nations once again to see how much Putin can do without starting another Cold War, or worse. Estonia and Latvia, specifically, have been feeling intense threats lately from Russia. Ethnically, about one fourth of Estonia is Russian, with heavy concentrations of Russian speakers living near the border. Reminiscent of the situation in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, this tense dispute has the possibility to quickly snowball into a violent proxy war between West and East.
President Obama left Estonia with these strong words of support, perhaps unknowingly setting the stage for the world’s next international conflict:
“So I’ve come here, first and foremost, to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to the security of Estonia. As NATO Allies, we have Article 5 duties to our collective defense. That is a commitment that is unbreakable. It is unwavering. It is eternal. And Estonia will never stand alone.”
DiBlasio, Natalie. “Estonia: Russia must release intelligence officer.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 6 Sept. 2014. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.
“Estonia intelligence officer abducted by gunpoint and taken to Russia.” The Baltic Times. Baltic News, 5 Sept. 2014. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.
Herszenhorn, David M. “Russia and Estonia Differ Over Detention.” The New York Times. New York Times Company, 5 Sept. 2014. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.
Obama, Barack, and Toomas Ilves. “Remarks by President Obama and President Ilves of Estonia in Joint Press Conference.” Whitehouse.gov. US Government, 3 Sept. 2014. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.
Image Credit: Pero Kvrzica via Flickr Creative Commons