The investigation determined that Maj. Denis Metsavas worked for Russian intelligence longer than initially believed. It can be said that almost his entire career in the Estonian Defense Forces – from officer’s school to the general staff – took place under the watchful eye of Estonia’s eastern neighbor. The higher Metsavas climbed through the ranks, the more damage his treason caused.
The year was 2007. The Bronze Night was dividing society, and Russian special services were having a field day. We were more vulnerable than ever before. It was then the paths of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) and Denis Metsavas crossed.
Metsavas was still a young non-commissioned officer (29 at the time he was recruited). The prosecution and the central criminal police do not reveal how then master’s student of the Officers’ School in Tartu found himself in the sphere of interest of the GRU.
It is likely Metsavas did not agree to work with Russian intelligence at first and hoped the matter would die down. “He got entangled. Cut off his escape route. His behavior led him to a situation where he had no choice but to cooperate with them,” Director General of the Estonian Internal Security Service Arnold Sinisalu hinted. He emphasized that officials should immediately report it if they are contacted by the GRU.
The young officer’s blinding career
The prosecution suggests Metsavas and his father Piotr Volin received a total of approximately €20,000 from Russian armed forces. Less than €2,000 a year. As a clever officer, Metsavas had to have known that he was taking a major risk: treason carries a maximum penalty of life in prison in Estonia. Public Prosecutor Inna Ombler also remained cryptic when talking to the press but hinted that money was not the only incentive.
Whether it recognized Metsavas’ potential or not, the GRU had made a brilliant investment as the young officer’s career took off. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant the same year he was recruited by the GRU, became a captain three years later and a major in 2015.
Having worked as a fire support officer at first, Metsavas moved to the general staff of the ground forces in 2013 and later to the Headquarters of the Estonian Defense Forces where he worked at the battle support department.
During this period, Metsavas gained access to increasingly valuable and sensitive information to pass on to Russian intelligence. They were likely interested in everything the officer had access to.
One such area was mobilization Estonia has repeatedly tested in the form of short-notice reserve training exercises in recent years. Relevant information is considered a crown jewel in intelligence. The same goes for general defense plans and allied positions. The lion’s share of information handled by Metsavas was domestic, while there is no doubt some information on NATO forces also reached Russia.
“We can say that there was interest in allied troops in Estonia, all manner of military infrastructure and cooperation between Estonia and allies,” Sinisalu said last year.
Father moved the secrets
The fact Metsavas was arrested along with his father Piotr Volin raises the question of the role of the pensioner who had no access to delicate information. Ombler said Volin operated as an information carrier by taking materials to Russia.
The need to involve another person was likely created when the internal security service required state officials to file detailed reports on visits to Russia after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Members of the Defense Forces with a Russian background were of special interest to the service.
Because the GRU wanted to meet in person, Metsavas could no longer deliver information to his handlers himself and sent his father instead.
That is also the reason for Volin’s shorter sentence. Harju County Court sentenced Denis Metsavas to 15 years and Piotr Volin to six years in prison in agreement procedure yesterday. Metsavas’ defender Alla Jakobson said the traitor regrets his actions.