ISS: Russian special services are behind attack on Estonian minister's car

21.02.2024 09:20
Heidi Saar
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The Internal Security Service (ISS) of Estonia reported that it has found the individuals responsible for damaging cars owned by the country's interior minister and a journalist last year. In connection with this case, 10 people were arrested. The ISS believes these acts were done for the Russian special services.

On Tuesday, the ISS explained that the aim of this coordinated action was to spread fear and tension among the people of Estonia. Six out of the arrested individuals are currently being held in custody.

Investigations reveal that the accused had different tasks, following orders from the Russian special services. Their activities included collecting information for the attacks and then executing them.

These individuals were also pushed to commit crimes, like breaking car windows of the Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets and a journalist, and damaging memorials.

State Prosecutor Triinu Olev mentioned this is an initial stage of the investigation, and further verification will happen through legal processes. Due to the ongoing investigation, not much information can be shared.

"The investigation is based on the section of the Penal Code that deals with crimes against the security of the Republic of Estonia," Olev stated. "We have asked for six individuals to be arrested due to concerns that they might continue committing crimes and avoid legal actions. The severity of these actions and their willingness to participate in actions against Estonia's security without considering the consequences cannot be ignored."

She highlighted that the arrested individuals are citizens of Russia and Estonia, with some having dual citizenship.

Margo Palloson, the Director General of ISS, noted that many of the involved individuals had previous criminal records. Some are residents of Russia who were recruited there, while others were approached through social media.

Palloson pointed out that this recruitment through social media by Russian and Chinese special services is becoming more common. He also mentioned that the payments for these attacks were relatively small, considering the risks involved. The attacks were specifically ordered against certain targets.

Several planned attacks were prevented by the ISS. Palloson stated, "We managed to stop plans to attack certain individuals' vehicles. This shows a new method of influence. In our view, Russia did not achieve its goal."

He warned those against Estonia's security, stating they would eventually be caught. Palloson also said that Russian efforts to create tension in Estonia through various means over the years have not gained wide support in Estonian society and have not been successful.

Palloson added that the Russian services do not care about the well-being of those they use for their operations, leaving them to face the consequences alone.

The arrests were made between December and February, with the most recent ones happening last week.

Interior Minister Läänemets shared with ERR that Russia's activities to instill fear and tension have been ongoing for several years, part of broader hybrid attacks including bomb threats and cyber attacks. He emphasized the importance of society recognizing these actions' intent to divide and weaken unity.

The Foreign Intelligence Service's Director General, Kaupo Rosin, informed the parliamentary Constitutional Committee that similar attacks could occur in other countries, indicating this is not an issue unique to Estonia.

The car of Lauri Läänemets was broken into in early December, with most windows smashed, while nearby vehicles remained untouched. This incident falls under the purview of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), which is overseen by the minister.

A vehicle owned by Andrei Šumakov, editor-in-chief of Delfi's Russian-language site, was also damaged on the same day.

Following these events, Estonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would summon Russia's top diplomat in Estonia. Additionally, Latvia's State Security Service reported detaining an individual for desecrating a memorial in Latvia and attempting provocations at memorial sites in other Baltic states on behalf of Russian special services.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas urged countries to openly discuss attacks by Russia, emphasizing Estonia's success in stopping a hybrid operation by Russia's security services. She stressed the importance of being open and exposing their methods to deter harmful actions and strengthen resilience.

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