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Estonia, Russia swap 2 men convicted of espionage

Estonia Russia spy swap exchange
Raivo Susi, second left, and Russian Artern Zintsenko, second
right, are seen during a prisoner exchange, at the Koidula border
in southeastern Estonia, on February 10, 2018.

Estonian Internal Security Service (KAPO) via Associated

  • Over the weekend, Russia and Estonia exchanged two men
    convicted of spying in each country.
  • Estonia and other Baltic countries have warned that
    Russian intelligence activity directed against them is
  • Tensions between Russia and other NATO countries has
    been elevated for some time.

The Baltic News Service said this weekend that Estonia and Russia
exchanged two men convicted of espionage at a border crossing
between the two countries.

The region’s main news agency cited Estonia’s Internal Security
Service as saying that Raivo Susi, an Estonian found guilty of
espionage and sentenced to 12 years in a high-security prison in
Russia, had been exchanged Saturday for Artern Zintsenko, who had
been given five years by Estonia for spying for Russia in May.

The two men were allowed to return home after receiving
presidential pardons.

“Estonia extradited to Russia a spy who committed a crime here
and the Estonian entrepreneur was able to return to his loved
ones after a long retention in Russia,” Estonia’s security agency
said, according to the Associated Press.

Zintsenko was arrested by Estonian Internal Security Service on
January 9, 2016. According to Estonia’s state prosecutor,
Zintsenko was recruited in 2009 and started spying in the Batlic
country in 2013, focusing on gathering intelligence about the
country’s military and critical infrastructure.

Zintsenko had no military experience, but his father and
grandfather were in the Soviet military and his great-grandfather
worked for Soviet counterintelligence during World War II. A
senior official with Estonia’s Internal Security Service told Buzzfeed that Russian
intelligence capitalized on Zintsenko’s affection for his
great-grandfather, manipulating his family ties and stoking a
“romantic feeling” about being a spy.

Zintsenko’s grandparents settled in Estonia in 1966. While he
lived with his parents in Russia, he did visit his grandparents
frequently, spending summers there, according to Buzzfeed.

Susi, the Estonian businessman freed in the exchange, was
arrested in Moscow on February 10, 2016. Buzzfeed reports that he was
involved in several aviation companies and was on his way to a
country in Central Asia when he was arrested.

There was no immediate confirmation from Moscow.

Zintsenko’s case is not an isolated one for Estonia. He was the
10th convicted spy in nine years and the first of them to have been
recruited by Russia’s military intelligence service, known as the

Estonia Russia spy swap exchange
Raivo Susi, second left, and Russian Artern Zintsenko, second
right, embrace their counterparts during a prisoner exchange in
southeastern Estonia, February 10, 2018.

Euronews/Estonian Security Police

Estonia’s internal-security service said in its 2017 annual
report that Russia — acting through the GRU and its Federal
Security Service, the FSB — had taken special interest in
the foreign and security policies, defense planning, armed
forces, arms development, and military capabilities of its

“The Russian special services are interested in both the
collection of information and in influencing decisions important
for Estonia,” the report stated. “The Russian intelligence and
security services conduct anti-Estonian influence operations,
including psychological operations — in other words, influencing
the defence forces and the general population of a potential

“Considering the security situation, such incidents can be
expected to recur,” the report said.

The Baltic country’s first spying case since regaining
independence in 1991 came to light in September
2008, when a former high-ranking defense official was arrested
and jailed for passing NATO secrets to Moscow. In 2016, Estonia
caught and convicted two dual Russian-Estonian citizens for
spying on military and law-enforcement activity for the FSB. Two
other people recruited by the FSB were caught in 2015.

“This case indicates the danger presented by the Russian special
services, which is especially great on Russian territory, and
unfortunately this has to be taken into account by different
people … might come to the attention of the Russian special
services,” Harrys Puusepp, spokesperson for the Estonian Security
Police, told Euronews of the spy swap.
“And it’s clear Estonian counterintelligence had to take action
over such obvious Russian spying on Estonia.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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