A lazy writer couldn’t have written a better script. The prisoner swap took place on a bridge halfway between Russia and Estonia. Nevertheless, at a closer look, the writer was not so lazy.
In fact, if we were watching a spy story B movie, the exchange would have take place at midnight. Possiblyunder a pouring rain. But the scene would have been too dark. The writer, however, thought that the cameras placed on the Russian side of the Piusa River, which marks the border with Estonia, could shoot better the exchange of Eston Kohver with the Russian spy Aleksei Dressen in daylight.
Many newspapers have interpreted it as a sign of lowering tensions between Russia and Estonia, others as a gesture of Putin rapprochement to the West.
The truth, unfortunately, is that we have seen no “spy swap”, but only a confirmation that Putin’s Russia, like the Soviet Union, is not a fair player.
Other observer has rightly pointed out that the timing of Kohver’s release of, two days before Putin’s speech at the UN, let think of a carefully orchestrated maneuver. After all, who has never seen a spy swap live on TV?
Because in Russia it’s good thing to be too suspicious, we could assume that the whole Kohver affair was orchestrated from the very beginning to get to an exchange with Dressen.
Eston Kohver was arrested by the Russian secret service on September 5, 2014 in a military operation with the use of stun grenades and radio jammer. He was on a mission with the KAPO, the internal security service of Estonia. He was investigating the smuggling across the Russian-Estonian border at Luhamaa. He was supposed to meet an informant in a forest near the border. He reappeared the next day on Russian TV, hooded between two FSB agents in handcuffs.
The border police of the two countries immediately investigated the arrest of Kohver, but the Russian and the Estonian versions do not agree on which side of the border Kohver has been arrested. The Russians say they have found him on their territory, while preparing for a spy mission. For this he went on trial and sentenced in August to 15 years. After a few weeks started the contacts with the Estonian authorities and the exchange with Dressen.
Dressen is a spy
Dressen’s story is a different one. He is an ethnic Russian Estonian citizen, member of the police since the Soviet times, passed to the new Estonian police after the country’s independence in 1991. He was arrested in 2012 at Tallinn airport, while attempting to board flight to Moscow with his wife. And with a hard drive full of confidential information. He was arrested by KAPO agents, in fact Kohver’s colleagues.
Yes, Dressen is a spy. How can we be sure? Why otherwise Moscow would have freed an Estonian police officer – Kohver, an alleged spy caught in the act – in exchange for another Estonian police officer? Why would Russia be interested in taking Dressen, an Estonian citizen imprisoned in Estonia, if he was not really an undercover agent of the FSB? The warm embrace on the bridge with his Russian colleague tells a story.
Do we need the ultimate evidence? The Russian news agency Interfax quoted intelligence sources saying that Dressen has worked for the FSB in the last twenty years, passing valuable information on the activities of the CIA and MI6 in the Baltic countries.
Another FSB source,reported by the newspaper Kommersant, said that the exchange is perfectly legitimate under the federal law on ‘”external intelligence activities”. According to the law, “the state has the obligation to cooperate for the full and unconditional release of personnel of the external intelligence service of the Russian Federation detained, arrested or convicted outside the territory of the Russian Federation in relation to intelligence activities.”
In short, Dressen is an important man for the FSB and they wanted him back. They needed a bargaining chip. The timing of Kohver’s arrest, his quick trial and his release a few weeks after he was sentenced, seem all part of a bigger plan. And the Punch and Judy show on the bridge? It’s the usual message from the Kremlin: if you tread on our toes, we to solve it by ourselves. And we even show you how.