TALLINN – A court in Tallinn has approved custody for Deniss Metsavas, born in 1980, and Pjotr Volin, born in 1953, as suspects in treason.
Metsavas served as officer in the Estonian defense forces at the time when the alleged offense was committed.
The men are suspected of forwarding Estonian state secrets and classified external information to the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, spokespeople for the Office of the Prosecutor General said.
According to the suspicion, the treason was committed over a period of more than five years.
On Tuesday, the Tallinn-based Harju County Court placed the men in custody at the request of Public Prosecutor Inna Ombler leading the investigation.
The chief prosecutor of Estonia, Lavly Perling, said at a press conference on Wednesday that one of the suspects is Maj. Deniss Metsavas, staff officer at the combat support department of the defense headquarters, and the other Pjotr Volin, the former's father. Metsavas has served as artillery officer in the national defense district for northeast Estonia, in which capacity he had access to all the development plans concerning the artillery. He was supposed to take up a position with the Kaitseliit (Defense League) volunteer corps from Monday.
The commander of the defense forces, Gen. Riho Terras, said that Metsavas has been in active service in the Estonian defense forces since 2008 and has succeeded in leaving the impression of a competent and committed officer.
"But he is a traitor," the defense chief said, adding that he did not know the officer in person.
Terras said that a significant wound has been inflicted in national defense and an emotional blow dealt to the people working in the defense forces. Now a committee will start work on the orders of the minister of defense to examine the situation with a view to mapping out solutions.
Terras said that significant damage has been inflicted on both Estonia and allies. In accordance with valid procedures also NATO allies have been notified. "Damage has been done, a wound has been inflicted in the defense capability of Estonia, but it can be healed and our country continues to be protected," Terras said. "Trust is the basis for the activities of the defense forces. And we trust our people, will continue to do it, and will allow no one to destroy this relationship," he said.
Ombler said that according to current information, Estonian state secrets and classified external information alike were forwarded to the Russian military intelligence agency.
"All this of course has to do with the possibilities and access that Metsavas had," the prosecutor said.
What exactly the information forwarded to the Russians is about can not be revealed in the present stage of the investigation, she added.
"It is clear that it was Metsavas in the first place who had access to classified information, but the forwarding of classified information and bringing it to the GRU was committed by both individuals," Ombler said. The connection with the GRU was maintained both by using means of communication as well as by means of direct meetings. The prosecutor could not reveal whether the exchange of information took place in the territory of Estonia or in a foreign country.
Both Metsavas and Volin are citizens of Estonia, who received citizenship in the 1990s.
As regards the background of Volin, Ombler said that he is currently retired. Prior to his retirement he has worked in the Estonian prison service, among other places.
The director general of the Internal Security Service, Arnold Sinisalu, would not dwell at length on the possible reasons of the alleged acts of treason, but mentioned that not always blackmail or similar is involved.
"Collaboration may begin simply on the basis of social contacts. Work will be done with a person over a long period of time and at one moment, when the person has forwarded a small piece of information, he will be in it with no way back," the chief of the national security agency said, adding that there's no point in developing a conspiracy theory suggesting that it was "ideological activity."
Sinisalu added that during the period of Soviet rule Volin served in the border guard forces of the Soviet Union. There he probably came into contact also with intelligence services, but these contacts may as well be not significant in the context of the present case, he added.
"I would not draw a direct line between these two," Sinisalu said.
Perling, the chief prosecutor, said that unfortunately the authorities have had to send out invitations on several occasions in recent years to inform that crimes have been committed against the Estonian state. A very sound practice has been developed by now, however, and the Estonian legal system functions well in matters of treason.
"The Internal Security Service always plays the key sole in detecting these crimes, just like it did this time," Perling said.
Perling described crimes against the state as a priority for the Office of the Prosecutor General.
Sinisalu said that cooperation between different institutions of the state has kept improving in recent years and that also in solving the present case cooperation with the defense forces was excellent.
"Apprehending a traitor is never easy, since it requires carefully prepared and concealed actions of professionals from both sides," he said. "Hence catching a traitor is always a victory for those who caught the traitor and a heavy blow for those in whose interest the traitor acted," Sinisalu added.