It also has outsize technological impact, as the birthplace of Skype, a country where internet access is enshrined as a civil right. Yet that drive, in some ways, also makes it uniquely vulnerable.
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After living under Soviet totalitarianism and occupation for a half century, Tallinn has pursued memberships to Western alliances that Moscow sees as threats, and its relationship with Russia is tense, at best. The campaign, Estonian officials and most analysts agree, was almost certainly ordered and orchestrated by Russia. When the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in , it had to create entire law-enforcement bodies from scratch, and cast about for officials with training and experience.
Among the options it relied on was to grandfather in Soviet-era operatives to continue their work, but for a sovereign Estonian state. Inevitably, sleeper agents were among those recruited. When most countries ferret out spies, they prefer to trade them back for their own captured intelligence officers, with little or no public fanfare.
Estonia is the rare country that trumpets the arrest and sentencing of foreign intelligence operatives. Metsavas was the fifth. Could he point out individual buildings on a map of military installations? Metsavas thought they were playing amateur hour. He was offered a small sum of money that his interlocutors said were to cover his expenses, and went back home.
And yet the table had been set.
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Over the period they knew each other, Metsavas learned little about Anton, or whether that was even his real name. All he could work out was that his handler had a military background, which appeared clear from his comfortable use of jargon, and that he was greatly interested in Ukraine and Georgia, two countries Metsavas had traveled to as an artillery liaison officer.
That was all by design. It also has a different ethos than the KGB and its descendants. During the Cold War, operatives from this service were also known to plant caches of weapons and ammunition across Europe and North America in case a hot war broke out between Russia and the West. It was the GRU that choreographed the seizure and annexation of Crimea, as Vladimir Putin admitted in a documentary that aired on Russian state television in March Since then, Ukraine has functioned as a laboratory for Russian military doctrine and GRU subversion efforts.
And a court in Montenegro has convicted two alleged GRU officers for masterminding a complex, murky, and ultimately unsuccessful coup attempt in , a year before the Adriatic country was due to join NATO. Two different units of its operatives hacked Democratic Party emails in the lead-up to the U. The intelligence agency then disseminated their contents via GRU-run internet personae called Guccifer 2. Alexander Mishkin. The Kremlin has denied involvement, as have the two men, who say they were there as tourists.
British authorities said the murder weapon was a proscribed military-grade nerve agent called Novichok, the unleashing of which ultimately killed one British civilian, landed several more in critical condition, and forced months-long quarantines in the sleepy cathedral city. The Skripal poisoning, a spectacular act of international terrorism, rallied a bloc of more than 20 Western countries into collectively expelling more than Russian diplomats, many of them believed to be intelligence officers.
Moscow denies this too. The hackers were thwarted. His mother, an obstetrics nurse, was born in Russia and immigrated to Estonia after marrying Volin. Like most children in the area in the s, Metsavas attended a Russian-language primary school, and only started learning Estonian when he was 6 or 7.
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You were completely Russian. The family home was devoid of the intense intellectual debates that consumed much of Estonian society as the Soviet Union collapsed and Tallinn became the capital of the newly independent country. Metsavas, however, was drawn to the military. Metsavas was even placed in the same barracks his father had served in, a source of familial pride. The same year he enlisted, his parents divorced. A decade into his military career, Metsavas was fully ensconced in the Estonian security forces. They asked questions about Estonian military allies, particularly the U.
Anton wanted to know about the U. In , Metsavas deployed to Afghanistan as a company liaison officer stationed in Helmand province. His access to see classified intelligence was limited, but he could still get his hands on plenty of sensitive documents. He made plans to see Anton in St. Petersburg in the summer of and tell him he wanted out. After talking for some time, Metsavas finally told Anton he wanted to stop passing information to Moscow.
He was financially secure, and his career was more and more at risk. They had recruited Volin into the operation. The Estonian officer continued to steal documents from headquarters, passing them to Anton in St. Neither Toots nor Metsavas would offer details on what kinds of reports were being shared beyond generalities, and all Metsavas would say was that Anton was drawn more to the classification of the documents he passed along than to the inherent value of the information they contained.
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That soon changed. Had this been a few years earlier, Metsavas would have been ecstatic—it would have meant no more meetings with Anton and thus a de facto end to working for the GRU. But Volin was by now living in Tallinn again, having moved back after the death of his father-in-law. He was sentenced to six years in prison. In , Metsavas learned he was about to become a father.
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The pair were friends before getting involved romantically. In , they married. On multiple occasions, he could have given up, or offered to help Estonian intelligence feed poor information to Russia, something he himself acknowledges. He was not in obvious financial distress, nor was he questioning his loyalty to Estonia. Yet each time, he declined. Studying his behavior, and that of others like him, however, makes it easier to understand.
Ideology was a low-order motivation for traitors. Instead, many defectors came from broken homes. I wondered. Had the GRU alighted upon him even earlier than the honeytrap in Smolensk? Had Volin colluded with the Russian organs well before that moment, or—and here was a question it was no longer possible to dismiss as paranoid—perhaps even helped orchestrate the compromising of his son?
Only now the regime has taken the place of the parent.
The Hero of Esthonia
Metsavas stood out. By then, he was a year veteran of the Estonian military and had completed a deployment with the NATO mission in Afghanistan. He gained a measure of celebrity, appearing on Russian-language television shows and giving radio interviews about Estonian defenses and NATO training exercises. He spoke at a local high school on patriotism and democracy, cautioning students against Russian propaganda before taking them to observe military field exercises, where they would fire assault rifles and briefly stay in tents.
He was, in effect, a totem for how Estonia sought to present itself: liberal, tolerant, cosmopolitan. Life eventually moved on. Estonia kept its eyes trained on its larger neighbor to the east, but Metsavas got a new position. But Northern Ireland got their equaliser in the 77th minute when Washington cut in from the left side and was able to run straight to the centre of the goal before clipping a shot over Lepmets, with Magennis on hand and possibly getting a touch on the ball. The celebrations were almost cut short by Artjom Dmitrijev, but Peacock-Farrell was at full stretch to push his powerful drive away.
There was another late scare as Dimitrijev headed just wide while Jones was close to adding a third at the other end, but Northern Ireland had already done enough. Magennis the hero as Northern Ireland salvage win in Estonia. Sorry, an error occurred. Sign in or register leave a comment or rate a comment. Get involved with the news in your community. Send your stories and photos now. Promoted Stories.