Russian diplomats expelled on spying charges

  • 2000-09-07
  • Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - The Estonian Foreign Ministry last week accused two Russian diplomats of spying and gave them 48 hours to leave Estonia.

The diplomats, identified as Yuri Yatsenko and Vladimir Telegin, were said to have participated in "activity incompatible with their status" - the common diplomatic term for spying.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry made the announcement on Aug. 31, prompting the Russian Foreign Ministry to immediately inform Estonian Ambassador Tiit Matsulevits that two Estonian diplomats would also be forced to leave Russia within 48 hours.

"We absolutely reject the charges as groundless. It is a planned provocation, which seriously harms Estonian-Russian relations," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The Estonian Foreign Ministry would only confirm that the measures had taken place, refusing to reveal any further details. However, spokesman Tavi Toom assured that the public response has been limited, and suggested that the move could be seriously damaging only if Russia chooses to use it to exacerbate tensions between the two countries.

The Security Police Board, as a standard procedure, would not comment on specific reasons for the actions taken on either side, said spokesman Hannes Kont.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed regret that "the remarkably positive dynamics of Estonian-Russian relations are being sacrificed to the ambitions of Estonian security services." All the responsibility, it said, rests with the Estonian side.

"It is a pity that such things happen," said Russian-Baltic Party MP Sergei Ivanov. "This won't promote contacts with Russia."

Ivanov said he had met Yatsenko, who came to Tallinn less than a year ago from Stockholm, as well as Telegin, the Russian legal attaché, last year on a visit to Parnu and Haapsalu. When asked whether he felt the charges against the men were true, he said he did not know: "There is not enough information."

Matsulevits, the Estonian ambassador, told the daily Postimees that the expulsion of the diplomats need not mean anything extraordinary or perilous. "It does happen between neighbors now and then," he said, pointing out that as many as nine Polish diplomats had to leave Moscow in January.

Spying rows between Russia and Estonia are nothing new, many reminded.

In the last most serious incident Estonia ordered a Russian diplomat to leave the country in May 1996, when security police secretly videotaped the Russian Embassy's then-economics adviser Sergei Andreyev obtaining allegedly classified documents from an adviser to the Estonian parliamentary foreign affairs committee. The adviser had previously alerted the authorities to the Russian's attempts to recruit him.

Following Andreyev's expulsion, Russia ordered the Estonian deputy secretary at Estonian Embassy's consular department in Moscow, Argo Kuunemae, to leave the country "for activities incompatible with his diplomatic status."

Another spying scandal erupted in March this year when the Russian counter-intelligence service announced it had arrested a Russian citizen who was allegedly spying for Great Britain in the Estonian capital. Russia claimed the man had been recruited by British intelligence with Estonia's help. Estonia categorically denied the charges.