Convicted spy Petrov: I’m basically a defector

Mihhail Petrov.

PHOTO: Erakogu.

Convicted spy, Russian Jiu-Jitsu trainer Mikhail Petrov says that he spied for the FSB in Estonia in 2011-2013. Petrov says he escaped to Estonia using a visa last summer to avoid going to prison in Russia. He had photographic evidence of surveillance activity he promptly handed over to the Estonian Internal Security Service (KAPO).

His five-year prison sentence, four years of which are probationary, is a part of the deal Petrov cut with the security service. Neither KAPO nor the Office of the Prosecutor General agreed to comment on Petrov’s claims.

You’re saying that information in the KAPO yearbook is not entirely correct. What did they get wrong?

I was asked in prison why did you ask for asylum in a country you’ve been spying on for 20 years. Could you answer that question? Why didn’t I apply for asylum in the Czech Republic or Lithuania for example? I came to Estonia…

Estonia is an hour’s drive from Pskov.

It is near, yes… But do you mean to tell me I spent 20 years spying on Estonia to come and ask for help now? Okay. It is possible. Second question: why did I head straight for KAPO when I came over on June 26? It took me two hours to convince them I worked for the FSB – I do not want to divulge details as I have an agreement with KAPO – but they questioned me for two hours…

If you have an agreement with KAPO, have they kept their word?

I cannot talk about that yet. I asked not to be extradited to Russia. I would be tried by a kangaroo court there. And things are getting worse there. KAPO agreed and wanted me to keep working for them. It was not a case of me being unmasked and arrested by KAPO. I had with me video and audio recordings I handed over to them. I’m basically a defector.

KAPO is painting me as someone who has been spying on Estonia for the FSB since the 1990s. That is not true. I didn’t even visit Estonia in the 90s. The narrative here is that I was unmasked as a result of a heroic KAPO operation. That is also not true. I believe men should not behave in such a manner. I came to them for help. Because I believe Estonia to have rule of law. Instead, I got this mess… If you look at the yearbook, I was hit the hardest out of three people accused of working for Russia. I got five years. The guy who worked for the GRU got four years, and the FSB collaborator got three. Isn’t that odd?

Did you work for the FSB?

Yes, I had ties to them. That much is true. But what you must understand is that different arms of the FSB handle different things. It was my task to infiltrate the opposition and attend their events. Drive to Vilnius for example. I had nothing to do with Estonia. I was connected to the FSB in the 1990s, but I had no contact with foreign intelligence. KAPO knows this. We also had two episodes where we helped Estonia. One concerned narcotics trade, more specifically an attempt to smuggle drugs into Estonia. The other one was as follows: do you still remember the national bolshevists’ campaign in Riga, when they took control of some tower there? Such an operation was also scheduled to take place in Tallinn. However, we took those boys off the train.

That was my job. I was combating extremism, terrorism, and the drug trade. KAPO has turned that into working against Estonia. I have the utmost respect for Estonia. My father was born in Estonia.

How did the FSB recruit you, and what was your role more specifically?

It happened in the 1990s. I think it was in 1995 or 1997… You know, I cannot talk about it. I have a gentlemen’s agreement with KAPO, and I do not want to violate it. Even if they have already started. However, I hope it’s some sort of mix-up, because I trust those boys. That is why I do not want to go into details. So what that they sent me to prison. But why keep humiliating me? Let me out and make me into an ISIS supporter while you’re at it. I have a beard. And then you can put me in jail again…

The KAPO yearbook reads that you collected information on their operatives.

I do not deny the fact. It was in 2011-2013. I told them that and handed them photographs of their operatives. I came to ask for forgiveness. One should show people like that some magnanimity. I did not come empty-handed. More so as I did not carry out the tasks – two episodes – I got from the FSB. After that, they gave me nothing. Some people have talent for espionage, I don’t.

My gift is being a coach. I do not want to be brandishing fists after a fight. There was a trial; thank God I was only sentenced to one year in prison.

I read about you in a Pskov newspaper, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand a single word…

Yes, that is how it goes sometimes.

How did you end up in Estonia in the first place?

When, in June?

Yes.

The state and I have not seen eye to eye since 2014. And when that happens, one must become an oppositionist. Next came the occupation of Crimea, which I do not believe was right. Wars are declared. But burying people in secret near Pskov is wrong. Soldiers come to practice wearing medals they’ve earned in Ukraine. Why should they hide their medals?

I wanted to establish an athletic organization but was pressured to open a political one. I kept in touch with the opposition, did not watch television. It was building up in me. I was touring the Pskov oblast, rural areas with children I was training. But if you start picking a fight with the state, you will have problems. Everywhere. And so will your relatives and loved ones.

I was told: you drew on the wall of the Pskov motor rifle division, and that is why you ran away. That wall was the aftermath. The children and I were out cleaning up, and we had chalk with us. The Pskov division is surrounded by a gray wall that hasn’t been painted in 15 years. We decided to draw on it. The children asked me what to draw. I told them the theme is “For Peace”. I drew a Ukrainian soldier standing next to a Russian soldier. Children also drew their pictures. Next, I was followed by soldiers in civilian clothes. I changed my clothes and headed for the Koidula border point after class on Sunday. From there, I headed for Tartu where I met an Estonian friend of mine…

How did you cross? Did you have a visa?

Yes, of course.

What happened next?

A friend met me in Tartu. He helped me go to the police, and they sent for KAPO. I did not go to the KAPO building as I was afraid there would be cameras. A KAPO operative came. He interrogated me for two hours. I gave them the video and audio recordings. I did not come empty-handed. Otherwise, they would have thought I was insane. The operative put a document in front of me that said Mikhail Petrov is asking for asylum in Estonia.

What was on those recordings?

I cannot talk about that as they are KAPO property today. It would not be wise to… just write that I brought materials. Your paper has readers on the other side of the border as well. However, I did hand them over to your special service, and they own them now… I don’t think they would mind, but I don’t know their process.

What did KAPO tell you? Did they thank you?

No… Yes, they did say it was important. I was taken to the Vao refugee center. Do you know it? There, I was paid a visit by another KAPO operative. We took a walk where they asked me questions, and I spilled the beans. I spent two days there. Then I came to Tartu. I proposed we meet in Tartu, so they wouldn’t have to drive to Vao. Next, I was told to collect some papers from the police. Officers handcuffed me, and I was taken to Harku. A KAPO operative met me there. I asked them what was going on. They said it is for my own safety. I do not want to say anything else as I was asked not to. If they keep their word, I will not talk about it. I do not want problems. I want to serve my time and live in Estonia; it has been insinuated that I can also live in some other country. I have friends and a daughter in Berlin.

Do you hope to be released in a year?

It’s not a matter of hope. The court sentenced me to five years of which I would have to serve one year in prison.

The KAPO yearbook mentions a five-year prison sentence.

Yes. Like I told you, the only thing the yearbook gets right is that my name is Mikhail Petrov. I haven’t even been allowed to get a haircut in four months. They seem to be preparing me for ISIS… I will be released on July 19. I’ve been promised KAPO will take care of things; I gave them my fingerprints. I hope they will keep their word. Otherwise, and it doesn’t matter that they put me in prison as it is up to Estonia whether to pardon me or not. I’m not bitter. I’ve always viewed Estonia favorably. But if they don’t keep their promise, which they say is impossible, I’m looking at 12 years in Russia.

I phoned my parents today. Their businesses in Russia were shut down. Firefighters showed up and closed their shop. Children who came to my class, 15-16-year-olds, had to give statements to the prosecution. My cousin, whom I’ve only met twice in my life, told me of a guy who wanted to befriend him on a social network. They got to talking, and it turned out the man works for the FSB and started asking after me, whether I’ve called etc. I’m not a timid person, but nothing pleasant is waiting for me in Russia.

Now, I’m an enemy in the eyes of Russians and in those of Estonians. I hoped to train kids in Estonia. I was offered a position in Narva. I’m not looking for fame or anything, I just want to disappear.

First, I want to ask Estonians to forgive me for what I did. I don’t deny the fact I could have said no, but it would have been difficult. I feel that the decision to send me to jail was made higher up. I have nothing against Estonians. Even here, in prison, Estonian guards talk to me and help me, while Russians turn their backs.

How are the conditions in prison?

I do not want to talk abut that, seeing as I’m in prison right now. It is a bad place. Every month, I’m paid a visit by KAPO operatives who serve me a version of events, according to which I’m here because I would not have enough money otherwise…

But a prison doesn’t have to be a resort. A person has no rights here. A kid hanged himself recently. I asked the guards what happened, and they started asking me how I found out… I don’t want to talk about prison.

My health has suffered here. I’ve developed a hernia and hypertension. I wanted to learn Estonian and was promised a class. Nothing came of it. I have good relations with Estonians in prison. Do you hear those voices…?

Yes, I hear them.

They help me. No one has come up to me to tell me I’m a spy. One only needs a brief conversation with me to realize I got caught in tensions between two countries.

How did you get a hold of a KAPO yearbook in prison?

I was summoned. They told me they want to show me something. We also get Postimees in prison. It is the only paper we get. The Estonian lads translated for me. It is peculiar to me that KAPO Director General Arnold Sinisalu or what’s his name…

Yes.

Sinisalu confirms what I’ve said. Your minister got caught drinking and driving and resigned. Nothing like that could happen in Russia. What happens when Sinisalu is no longer around? The yearbook is an official document. I get out of prison, I’m a physical education teacher by trade and want to find a job, but then I’m told that I’m a spy. The KAPO yearbook says so.

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