TALLINN - After being handed back by Russian authorities in a dramatic cross border spy swap last month, Estonian counter-intelligence agent Eston Kohver has wasted little time in getting back to work.
At the start of September, Kohver was serving a fifteen year jail sentence in Russia on charges of espionage.
Officials in Tallinn had been calling for his release, insisting Kohver was kidnapped on the Estonian side of the border in September, 2014 – just days after US President Barack Obama concluded his visit to the country. But these calls had all seemed in vain: he was sentenced in a Russian court in Pskov at the end of August, after almost a year of sitting behind bars. The court found him guilty of acts of espionage on the Russian side of the border, alleging that Kohver was equipped with money and weapons and on assignment in Russia.
On Sept. 26, only two days before President Barack Obama was to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at the UN in New York, the first time the two men had met in nearly a year, Kohver was set free. According to footage released on Russian television and statements from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) that were later confirmed by Estonia’s Interior Ministry, Kohver crossed the Kunichina Gora checkpoint, walking to Estonia across a bridge over the River Piusa. He was set free in return for Alexei Dressen, a former officer of ISS serving a sentence for transferring secret data to the FSB.
After a brief press conference where Kohver expressed his thanks and did not answer a single question, and barely a week back with family and friends, the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) has said that their employee Kohver has returned to work.
A spokesman for ISS, Harrys Puusepp, confirmed to BNS last Friday that Kohver was again performing his official duties. He added that, in line with usual practice, ISS does not reveal any details as regards its staff or what they are doing.
Returning from an official visit to the United States, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves paid a personal visit to Kohver, commending him for his strength of character throughout his ordeal.
“The morning of Sept. 26 this year, when it was conclusively confirmed that you were back in Estonia, was one of the happiest of my presidency,” Ilves said according to spokespeople. “I regret that it took so long and I thank you for maintaining firmness, bravery and loyalty while in captivity. Exactly in the same way I thank your wife Marlis, whose hope gave support to all of your family and next of kin.”
Ilves said getting the abducted ISS officer back home was the only goal for Estonia.
“To count points in this, of how much Estonia lost by this exchange and how much someone else won, is something I cannot understand. We got our man back – an Estonian state official and father of four is back with his family.”
The president said that when negotiations on the release of Eston Kohver came to the point of having to decide whether traitor Aleksei Dressen should be pardoned in Estonia, he never had any doubt.
“Pardoning doesn’t mean forgiving and Dressen remains a traitor. This exchange brought Eston Kohver home, which is what matters the most,” he said.
“I believe that in the future everything can only go well for you,” Ilves told Kohver.