The Abduction of Eston Kohver: Consequences and Significance

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At around 9:00 am on September 5th, Internal Security Service (Kaitsepolitsei) officer Eston Kohver was abducted by representatives of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on Estonian territory near the village of Miikse and the Luhamaa border crossing. The Russian operatives undoubtedly acted very quickly, supposedly using smoke and/or shock grenades in addition to light weapons. It now seems that the Russians are not only capable of surprising almost everyone by seizing territories of neighbouring countries (e.g. Crimea) in a few days, but also of kidnapping people—and not just anyone, but a professional—outside Russia’s territory in a few minutes.

Let us not speculate on the element of surprise or how the abduction was possible without detection or resistance. It is, by all means, an operative lesson—and not only for the Kaitsepolitsei, or just for Estonia alone. The meaning and possible consequences of this stunning act by the FSB—which is directly subordinated to Russian president Putin—are even more interesting. According to several sources, the people currently closest to Putin, those whom he meets almost daily and still trusts (in contrast to virtually the entire Russian government), are FSB head Alexander Bortnikov and some five of his deputies, as well as several department heads. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Putin directly and personally authorised the kidnapping. But it still means that the FSB has reached its climax of power, bearing a huge influence on the decisions taken by the master in the Kremlin (who is increasingly taking personal control of all relevant matters concerning foreign policy, security etc). Therefore, the FSB might indeed look actively to find such opportunities to please Putin, and support his political course, one that is obviously directed towards confrontation with the West. This also means that we may see more FSB surprises, perhaps of a somewhat different type.

The most stunning aspect of this story is not just the mere fact that an Estonian operative was kidnapped, but that it happened on the territory of Estonia

I suspect that the September 5 incident served, first of all, propagandistic goals. The Russian media could once again drum up a “NATO spy“ story that fits very well in the overall context of its reporting of confrontation and “subversive activities“ of the West against Russia, and, of course, highligth the effectiveness of the FSB. On the other hand, it also served as a message to the West: that Russia could easily cross NATO’s Eastern border, organize an outrageous provocation, and simply get away with it. Whereas nobody is able to punish Russia for this, never mind liberating the kidnapped operative. He’s now in Putin’s hands, and Putin has no mercy or shame. Nevertheless, the FSB may attempt to trade Kohver back to Estonia, most likely under questionable terms.

The most stunning aspect of this story is not just the mere fact that an Estonian operative was kidnapped, but that it happened on the territory of Estonia. The very same day, border representatives of the two countries thoroughly inspected the site of the incident and signed an “initial protocol,” a document clearly stipulating the fact that the border was crossed from the Russian side to Estonia and then back. One can only speculate what has happened afterwards to that professional and honest poor chap, the Russian border representative, who seemingly had no idea about the FSB operation… Only on September 9 did the Russians agree to re-inspect the site, to settle on a ”final protocol“, but this time arguing astonishingly, that the two sides have different interpretations of where the line of control between the two countries lies in that particular area.

Perhaps this is just another mere example of Russian demagoguery. But even if it is true that there is no bilaterally-recognized border between Estonia and Russia—the latest version of the treaty, slightly refined and then signed in 2013, has not yet been ratified by the two sides—Russia can’t be serious: in the 1990s, it adopted a law that unilaterally determined the „state border“ with Estonia. That „borderline“ is clearly demarcated by the Russians. At the site of the incident, one can observe at least one Russian border marker.

The meaning of this act seems to be twofold. First, that the FSB can conveniently break and interpret any of Russia’s laws, which does not leave any hope that Mr Kohver will be given a fair trial. .In addition, it also means that the FSB and other Russian services will not hesitate to exploit any opportunities to carry out outrageous provocations, whenever possible, which is a very serious warning for all allies, from Norway to Poland and beyond.

Originally published by The International Center for Defence Studies HERE

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