Fr, 2.12.2022

ISS chief: Toompea protests not curated from Moscow

ISS chief: Toompea protests not curated from Moscow
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Protests in Tallinn.
Protests in Tallinn. Photo: Mihkel Maripuu

There have been attempts to attach all manner of theories to protests in Tallinn that have now lasted for a fortnight, down to the unrest being orchestrated from the Kremlin. Director General of the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) Arnold Sinisalu overturned such claims at the presentation of the ISS yearbook on Monday, saying that protesters are there for very different reasons.

Sinisalu said that Moscow’s involvement in protests on Toompea Hill and other city center locations should not be suspected. “The protests have drawn very different people who are afraid of the police being given greater powers, including those against the obligation to wear a mask and anti-vaccination activists. The [coronavirus] situation that has now lasted for over a year has left people tired and brought them out to protest. Masks are not comfortable and are a source of frustration. The ISS director added that protesting is a constitutional right and that he sees no great concern in people exercising that right.

Interest of Islamic terrorists in Estonia growing

Sinisalu said that while protesters include people with ties to Russia and Russian citizens, their role in organizing the protests is not instrumental. ISS office chief Harrys Puusepp added that the right to protest is subject to limitations in the coronavirus situation and that it is important for protesters to comply with restrictions. “Everyone wants the restrictions to end as soon as possible. Violations work to increase tensions and people are easier to manipulate in a stressful situation,” Puusepp said.

The new ISS yearbook reads that Estonia identified, expelled and handed entry bans to four persons associated with Islamic terrorism last year. Two of them – a Georgian and Russian citizen – entered the country illegally and two – an Uzbek and EU member state citizen – migrated legally.

The security service observed more than 40 persons with likely ties to Islamism and terrorist organizations passing through Estonia.

The residence permit of a Ukrainian citizen living in Estonia since 2009 was revoked as radicalization that had begun in 2017 reached a phase where the person was becoming a threat to national security.

Even though the terror threat level remains low in Estonia, such manifestations are not impossible. Estonia is part of the mechanism of ensuring security and anti-terrorist efforts in the EU. That said, Estonia has not been untouched by the effects of international terrorism. There are still people with an Estonian background in the Syrian conflict. A few dozen persons with ties to Estonia are believed to have been or still be in the Syria-Iraq conflict area. Their return to Estonia is unlikely in the near future. There are also people in Estonia interested in traveling to the conflict zone. The ISS plans to stop any such attempts.

Russian intelligence activities remained the number one concern for Estonia last year. The ISS has also pointed to growing Chinese intelligence activity in recent years. The first such criminal case to reach court in the spring of 2021 saw the conviction of marine researcher Tarmo Kõuts who worked in the field of defense.

In addition to Kõuts, the ISS have identified another Estonian citizen who worked for China. The person has been taken into custody and is accused of conspiracy and intelligence activities aimed against the Estonian state just like Kõuts. The Prosecutor’s Office has forwarded the charges to court. Sinisalu said that there is no ruling in the case yet and no further comment can be made at this time. Postimees’ information suggests the person in question is a woman who worked with Kõuts.

The ISS writes that last year was quite difficult for intelligence services working against Estonia as movement restrictions on borders forced agencies to alter work culture and methods.

The entire society working in shifts and from home office left a mark on the activities of intelligence operatives in Estonia, other EU member states and Russia. If last spring, several units of the FSB initially tried to ignore the situation, this soon proved impossible as infection spread. Even the biggest skeptics realized that the virus cares nothing for nationality, skin color or even vocation. Intelligence operatives were ordered to isolate in units.

Intelligence still active

Even though the yearbook suggests that Russian activities were hampered by the coronavirus situation, intelligence efforts persisted.

Regular intelligence activities persisted until the start of 2020 and several Estonians were approached and attempts made to recruit then in Russia or on the border. Most such attempts were made by the FSB. Services were forced to adjust methods once borders closed. Face-to-face meetings were replaced with email or social media communication, with physical contact postponed.

The ISS writes that closing of entertainment establishments and restaurants and activity restrictions derailed several intelligence operations and forced services to limit contacts and dial back efforts.

The security services adds, however, that the crisis did nothing to disrupt cyberintelligence and attacks against Estonia and Estonian targets never ceased. It is to be believed that intelligence activity from Russia will be restored as restrictions are lifted and society returns to normalcy.