Estonia jails three men for spying for Russia

23rd February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Estonia has jailed three cigarette smugglers who were convicted of spying for the Russian special services, authorities said Tuesday, the latest espionage incident amid tension between the West and Russia.

The Baltic state and neighbours Latvia and Lithuania -- all EU and NATO members -- have been spooked by their Soviet-era master Russia's actions since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The recent edgy relations between Russia and the West have led to a spike in spying claims, including the latest three announced by Estonia's state prosecutor and internal police spokesman at a joint press conference Tuesday.

Two of the men were sentenced in October 2015 while the third was sentenced last week for "illegal cooperation with Russian special services." They were all smugglers, and one was also involved in human trafficking.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) "recruits smugglers to achieve its aims. None of the three had access to Estonian state secrets or secret international information," internal police spokesman Harrys Puusepp told reporters.

Instead, he said the men passed along observations about Estonian border guards and internal police around the border.

The three men, ranging in age from 21 to 42, are Estonians Aleksandr Rudnev, Maksim Gruzdev and stateless Pavel Romanov. Their jail sentences ranged from two to over four years. All are ethnic Russian.

Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis has prompted eastern European NATO members once ruled from Moscow to demand that the transatlantic alliance station troops permanently on its eastern flank.

NATO leaders are expected to formally endorse the deployment of significant troop rotations to the area at a July summit in Poland, a move that has angered Moscow.

© 2016 AFP

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