They are simple material. Hardly distinctive-looking, good at thinking on their feet, in relatively good shape. They are motivated by patriotic rhetoric, blackmail if necessary, but most of all the romantic aspect. Some are trained, others merely receive instructions.
“There is very little you need to do. Risks are nonexistent,” the friendly handler says, hand on shoulder. The men are offered to make a little extra money, have the authorities turn a blind eye to violations, while simple patriotism sometimes suffices. Reality will strike home later – when recruits get caught.
“Initial cooperation is usually inspired by romantic inclinations. It ends when they get caught. They were promised something else,” Aleksander Toots, deputy director general of the Estonian Internal Security Service says.
He has been involved with half of the nearly seven cases of the past few years that have seen young men convicted of spying for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) or military intelligence GRU.
Their sins are considerable. Agents have gathered information on border guard work methods and tactics, locations of checkpoints and surveillance cameras, as well as names of internal security operatives who have been sent over the border. They have taken pictures of allied units and vital services nodes. All have been found guilty in court.
Alexei Vassilyev (20), arrested at the Narva border crossing point on November 4 of this year and accused of planning a computer crime by the prosecution and the internal security service, is no exception. His background isn’t clean, despite attempts by the Russian media to paint an opposite picture using images of Vassilyev as an innocent schoolboy. FSB collaborator Artyom Malyshev was 18 when we was recruited in 2011. Alik Huchbarov was 20. Both are young men with double citizenship who engaged in smuggling and helped Russian special services.
These kinds of sources are perfect tools of visual surveillance for Russian special services. They know the landscape, can move in the dark, are familiar with the border regime, have contacts, and are willing to take risks. And what is paramount – they can be blackmailed.
“If you’re in illegal border trade, you’ll simply be told your business is done if you don’t cooperate. While if you do cooperate, things will go more smoothly,” Toots describes.
There is sharp competition in smuggling on the Russian side of the border. Risks are considerable, as are potential profits. Every vacancy on the market is quickly filled with new traffickers. Those on the FSB’s leash have a choice of whether to give up their spot or cooperate.