Denis Metsavas and his father Pyotr Volin, currently suspected of spying for Russian foreign intelligence agency GRU, were on the internal security service’s radar for a time in the mid-1990s. Their citizenship applications include a positive background check note by the security agency that delivered their Estonian passports in the end.
Documents reveal that Volin applied for citizenship through naturalization in 1993 and passed the security police (KAPO) background check without problems.
Not much was expected from applicants: in addition to filing the application, prospective citizens had to provide a resume and speak Estonian on a basic level.
Volin wrote in his CV that he served in the Soviet Union’s armed forces in 1971-1979. Even though Soviet border guard had strong ties to the KGB, Volin was just a rank and file patrolman. He went on patrol and manned observation posts and never rose to the rank of officer.
The then citizenship board did not have many resources with which to verify Volin’s statements. That task fell to the newly created Security Police Board in 1993.
The fact that a background check was carried out in Volin’s case is reflected in a corresponding security police note on his citizenship application. The agency did not find Volin to be a threat to the young republic.
The same note can be found on the application of Volin’s son Denis Metsavas that was filed in 1995, when he was just 15 years old. The future Defense Forces General Staff planning officer Metsavas was still known as Volin and lived in Lasnamäe at the time. Metsavas took the name of his Southeast Estonian ancestors when he was 17 or 18 years of age.
The nature of inspection?
Press representative of the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) Harrys Puusepp said KAPO did not approve applicants for an Estonian passport in the nineties but rather checked for exclusionary circumstances.
Working for the Soviet border guard was not such a circumstance, while service in the occupying country’s security agencies or military intelligence and counterintelligence organs was. The latter included the KGB.
The extent and thoroughness of Volin’s background check remains a mystery to this day. “While I cannot go into detail, the difference between checks then and now is night and day. Legislation has changed, technical possibilities differ and so do people’s skills and know-how,” Puusepp said.
A former citizenship officer consulted by Postimees said that people could apply for citizenship in simplified procedure in the early 1990s that would be impossible today.
“Every adult applicant must take two exams – language and legislation. However, back then, people were exempt; they didn’t speak the language, nor were they required to,” the officer said.
Simplified procedure was introduced because of the sheer number of applicants. The reenacted Citizenship Act of 1992 officially designated nearly a third of the population as foreigners. People who migrated to Estonia during the Soviet period and their children made up the lion’s share of the group.
In that crowd, Volin might have looked like a positive candidate. He was from the city of Võru and his family had not come to Estonia during the occupation. Even though Pyotr Volin’s father, Oktrev Volin, had a red past, the family was from Southeast Estonia on his father’s side.
Volin could have been refused citizenship had he been in active service at the time; however, Pyotr Volin was already working as a prison guard by 1994. Work might have been one of the reasons Volin decided to seek citizenship – it was impossible for non-citizens to do executive work in the prison service.
That officials were drowning in applications is reflected in the fact that 1994 and 1996 remain record years in terms of the number of citizenships granted through naturalization. More than 23,000 people were given passports with the three lions both years, including Volin and Metsavas.
Heiki Arike, who was interior minister when Volin became a citizen, admitted that checks were indeed cursory. “They probably didn’t dig very deep,” the former minister said.
Arike’s predecessor Lagle Parek said the state was being magnanimous in granting citizenship which fact was taken advantage of. “What really happened was that because there was no way for us to check those papers with any measure of security, everyone who applied were given citizenship in the first year. We put a stop to it when we discovered there were forgers. It happened in 1992-1993, so they (Metsavas and Volin – O. K.) were not among those given citizenship automatically,” Parek said.