Documents: Ireland shunned from statement in support of Estonia amid IRA arms allegations

  • 2022-12-29
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - Documents declassified by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs show that Estonia wanted a statement of support from the Irish government during a 1996 Russian-initiated scandal implicating Estonia's Kaitseliit (Defense League) volunteer defense corps and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), but the Irish preferred to remain silent, Postimees reported on Thursday.

It said that in Ireland, materials kept secret in the State Archive for decades have now been made public. The 1996 file of the Department of Foreign Affairs contains material about a scandal that erupted in May 1996, when Russia's TASS news agency published a report that Estonian "extremists" from the the Kaitseliit were selling weapons to the terrorist organization IRA. In the excerpts published by The Irish Independent, the spelling "Kajtselite" was used for the Kaitseliit.

The Department of Foreign Affairs noted the story on May 7 and Ireland's Ambassador to Russia Ronan Murphy was briefed on the matter.

Murphy wrote to Colm O'Floinn of the Department of Foreign Affairs Anglo-Irish Division on May 8 to say he had been personally approached by the Estonian Ambassador to Russia, Mart Helme, over the arms supply claims.

"The Ambassador said that he is calling a press conference to refute the suggestion that the Estonia authorities had anything to do with supplying arms to the IRA," he wrote. "It was likely that his Foreign Minister in Tallinn would make a statement too."

According to Murphy, the ambassador said it was true that arms smuggling was a problem in Estonia but the government was trying to tackle the problem.

"The courts recently sentenced two people heavily involved in arms smuggling, one to nine years imprisonment. It was not true, however, that there was any involvement in arms smuggling by the Estonian authorities," he quoted Helme as saying.

"He put down the Itar/TASS report to the poor state of Russian-Estonian relations....(indeed fraught)," the quote reads.

Murphy went on to say: "The Ambassador said he would send me material which he will use for his press conference. He said that it would be helpful if the Irish Government were to confirm that we do not believe that the Estonian authorities are involved in supplying arms to the IRA."

According to The Irish Independent, Irish officials noted in correspondence that they were cautious about such an approach, warning that, if Estonia was serious about such an Irish statement, the approach would have come directly from Tallinn or more likely from Helsinki.

"A factor to take into account, even if we were in a position to say something, is that we would be publicly involving ourselves in a row between Estonia and Russia at a time when the temperature in these countries' relations is already high," the correspondence reads. A hand-written note to the final report was a recommendation that Ireland "avoid saying anything" in respect of the arms row.

The scandal erupted on May 6, 1996, when the Russian news agency TASS, citing the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), published a report that Estonian "extremists" had sold weapons to the IRA with the help of the Kaitseliit. According to the FSB, powerful sniper rifles, automatic weapons, heavy machine guns and explosives had reached the IRA through Estonia. According to TASS, the Kaitseliit's involvement with the IRA was exposed during an FSB operation aimed at stopping the flow of illegal firearms from the Baltic countries to Russia.

Estonia immediately rejected the claims, dismissing the allegations by TASS as "disinformation" and an attempt to slander the country that had regained its independence in the eyes of the international community.

Johannes Kert, chief of the Kaitseliit in 1993-1996 and the commander of the Estonian defense forces when the scandal broke, told Postimees that the Kaitseliit has never brokered weapons to the IRA.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry issued a statement after the TASS report, dismissing allegations of an arms deal with the IRA as untrue. It said the  Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly condemned terrorism regardless of where, in what form or for what purpose it is used. This is why the ministry is perplexed and disturbed by the groundless, illogical and confusing insinuations by the Russian Federal Security Service that Estonia is involved in illegal arms trade, the ministry said.

At that time, the media also published a warning by Ambassador Mart Helme, who said that the allegations were made by very influential forces in Russia, who do not want to normalize relations with Estonia and are trying to portray Estonia as an illegal and dangerous creation.