22nd Sep 2023

Russia jails Estonian officer despite EU appeals

  • Moscow: Secret trial ignored Russian border guards' own testimony (Photo: EUobserver)

Eston Kohver, a 44-year old Estonian security officer, is to spend the next 15 years of his life in prison as part of Russia’s broader campaign to intimidate its neighbours.

A court in Pskov, north-west Russia, handed down the sentence on Wednesday (19 August).

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  • The court said Kohver is a spy captured on Russian territory (Photo: European Commission)

It came after a trial behind closed doors, with the Estonian consul in Russia not allowed in, and without proper legal representation for the defence.

The court said Kohver is a spy captured on Russian territory.

But in fact he was kidnapped by Russian security services from Estonian territory on 5 September last year while going to meet an informant on cross-border smuggling.

The court verdict comes despite a joint protocol, signed by Estonian and Russian border guards, which details the footprints of people crossing from Russia into Estonia and then returning to Russia at the site and time of the abduction, as well as the impact craters of stun grenades, and the signs of a violent struggle.

The EU foreign service on Tuesday immediately called for his release.

It noted that his “abduction and subsequent illegal detention in Russia constitute a clear violation of international law”.

The EU foreign relations chief, Federica Mogherini, is also likely to take up the case when she visits Tallinn on Monday on a previously planned trip.

But EU officials hold out little hope of a positive Russian reaction, after “repeated requests” for Russia to honour legal norms fell on deaf ears over the past year.

The UK and the US joined the EU appeal.

“Terrible. He should be released immediately”, Daniel Baer, the US ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna, said.

Estonia’s foreign minister, Marina Kaljurand, added: “Together with our allies and partners, we intend to keep up international pressure until Eston Kohver is released and has returned home to his family”.

The Kohver abduction was timed to coincide with a Nato summit in Wales last year.

It is one in a series of provocations designed to show that the EU and Nato are not prepared to defend former Soviet and Communist states despite their treaty obligations.

Russia, also last year, snatched a Lithuanian fishing boat in international waters.

Its jets routinely violate the Baltic states’ airspace. Russian-linked groups have launched internet campaigns calling for the independence of Russian-speaking regions in Latvia and Estonia. Another Russian court is also examining the legality of the Baltic states’ split from the Soviet Union.

Further south, in Nato ally Georgia, Russian forces recently extended the de facto border of Russian-occupied South Ossetia further into Georgian territory.

In post-revolution Ukraine, its forces, last weekend shelled civilian areas on the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, while Russian president Vladimir Putin made a highly-publicised visit to Russia-annexed Crimea.

The flare-up in fighting in Ukraine has promoted a snap meeting of the leaders of France, Germany, and Ukraine in Berlin on 24 August.

Ukraine leader Petro Porosenko is also due to visit Brussels by the end of the month.

For their part, OSCE monitors in Mariupol said on Tuesday they saw 25 damaged homes and 11 craters caused by artillery shells. They noted that two civilians were killed, among the injured there was “a girl who had lost one of her legs”.

OSCE drones also spotted 10 tanks and three artillery pieces in Russian-occupied parts of Donetsk, as well as one tank and seven artillery pieces on the Ukraine-controlled side - all in violation of the so-called Minsk ceasefire accord.

The monitors also recorded 15 craters in an area in Russian-occupied Donetsk, eight of which had been caused by Grad rockets, apparently fired from the Ukrainian side.

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