Although diplomats wear ties and suits and their jovial chatter gives an impression of ordinary people with broad horizons and interests, digging into their past can reveal something unexpected.
Mysterious diplomacy: a naval officer becomes a monuments expert
The Rus.Postimees portal was recently contacted by a man – we shall call him Andrey – who says that an employee of the Embassy of the Russian Federation asks his Estonian acquaintances many unusual questions. “He arrived in a car with the embassy's number plates and said that he was dealing with monuments and memorials.”
The employee of the embassy was extremely sociable, made many acquaintances, invited new acquaintances to drink beer and asked questions over beer. “Among other things, he asked, for example, about state procurements supplies or the work of government institutions. At first I did not attach any importance to it, but after the war started in Ukraine... I felt that if he asks that many questions, there must be something serious behind it.”
When the journalist asked the Internal Security Service (ISS) for a comment on Andrey's story, they said that sociability and active behavior can accompany primary information gathering. “Russian special services often use diplomatic cover in their work, while at the same time collecting information about the host country. Often they may not be interested in something secret, sometimes it is just confidential information about the country or private affairs. The work of the public sector as a whole may also be of interest.”
The sociable “monuments specialist” turned out to be the second adviser of the Russian Embassy in Estonia. 38-year-old Artyom Khaneyev is from the Smolensk region, he has graduated from a military school and was a 1st class specialist already in 2013. Crimea had not yet been annexed, and Khaneyev was there, either for a visit, for personal affairs or served at the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet – this is confirmed by a photo where he wears a white uniform with captain's shoulder boards. The Admiral Kuznetsov medal can be seen on the left side of his tunic. According to the regulations, this medal is awarded to naval personnel, for example, for excellent performance in combat training, for impeccable service on ships, submarines and naval aviation or in other naval units, etc.
The journalists have not been able to find out exactly when the naval officer became a diplomat specializing in the protection of monuments. Anyway, in 2014 and 2015, Khaneyev often flew between Crimea and Moscow.
He has been working in Estonia for at least three years.
When requested by the editors of the Rus.Postimees portal to answer questions related to Khaneyev and to talk with him, the Embassy of the Russian Federation responded as follows: “Preserving the objects of the Soviet (Russian) military heritage and stopping the desecration of the graves of those who liberated the world from fascism is an important task for the country which won the Second World War; therefore these issues have always been and will remain in the center of attention of the Russian Embassy in Estonia. We have already made relevant statements more than once, which hopefully will help prepare your article.”
Upon the journalist's explanation that the publication is interested in the specialist in memorials rather than memorials as such, the following answer arrived: “We are ready to discuss with you all current and socially important topics. These are the reasons for the special military operation in Ukraine, the crimes of the Ukrainian armed forces against the civilian population and prisoners of war, the continuing acts of state vandalism against Soviet monuments and military graves in Estonia, the violation of the rights of the Russian-speaking population, etc., about which the Estonian public must know the truth.”
They are trying to hook you
When doing intelligence work in some foreign country, Russian diplomats residing there benefit greatly from locally recruited collaborators or at least from information obtained through local residents. Andres Anvelt, the former director of the Central Criminal Police, told Rus.Postimees how the so-called fishing is done.
“At the beginning of the 2000s, when I was the deputy director of the Central Criminal Police, an attaché of the Russian embassy started visiting me and asking all kinds of questions,” Anvelt recalled. “But even if nothing particularly serious is discussed in the conversation, there is only one right option – to inform the ISS immediately. The story can begin to acquire its own life afterwards, and then it is already difficult to justify oneself. The person who is talking to you can record the conversations, then this diplomat can be detained and deported, and sometimes recorded information can reach the ISS in the process.”
Anvelt added that the attaché who visited him was sent back to his home country very quickly, because it was clear that his actions did not meet the international standards of diplomatic service. “If a cultural attaché is asking about military procurements, it is a clear blunder – God help him!” said Anvelt.
A diplomat urinated in the Old Town, or an overview of the spies' activities
The history of Estonia since the restoration of independence knows dozens of cases when an employee of the Russian Embassy was expelled because he gathered information here, tried to recruit someone and turned out to be an intelligence officer. Here we recall only a few scandals related to the exposure of Russian spies
In 1996, the economic adviser of the Russian embassy, Sergey Andreyev, was expelled from Estonia, having turned out to be an employee of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). He sought information from civil servants about the defense concept of the Baltic states, as well as the plans to join the EU and NATO.
In 2000, the embassy employees Vladimir Telegin and Yuri Yatsenko were expelled, who turned out to be employees of the military intelligence (GRU) and collected information about the Estonian radar system and the border guard service.
In 2003, Nikolai Shcherbakov, the first secretary of the embassy, had to leave Estonia. Our secret services determined that he was an officer of the Russian foreign intelligence service and was considered a key person of the Russian special services in Tallinn. Interestingly, Shcherbakov was expelled instead for the reason that he tried to drive away from a police patrol while drunk, caused two accidents and then urinated in the Old Town right in front of a surveillance camera.
On March 22, 2004, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the expulsion of two Russian diplomats. They were ordered to leave Estonia within 48 hours, because the said diplomats were “actively obtaining information about the enlargement of NATO and the European Union”. Already a day later, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that two employees of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow were recognized as persona non grata “for activities incompatible with the status of a diplomat and damaging to the interests of the Russian Federation”.
In 2006, Anatoli Dyshkant, a resident of the foreign intelligence service in Estonia, was expelled. According to the ISS yearbook, Dyshkant, who was an advisor to the Russian embassy, organized “prophylactic” talks with representatives of Estonian Russian-speaking political parties and advised them to go to the local elections as a united bloc.
The most talked about story of 2008 was the revelation of Herman Simm, who worked for Russian intelligence. Simm was a high-ranking official of the Estonian Ministry of Defense who was convicted of treason and spying for Russia.
In 2012, former ISS employee Aleksei Dressen was arrested for spying for the Russian Federation, having, according to the indictment, cooperated with the Russian Security Service (FSB). During the arrest of Dressen and his wife, who was also involved in espionage, the officials confiscated “carriers of classified information”, which Viktoria Dressen intended to hand over to FSB personnel in Moscow.
Aleksei Dressen was sentenced to 16 years in prison for treason in July 2012, but in September 2015 he was exchanged on the Piusa River bridge for ISS officer Eston Kohver, who had been convicted of espionage in Russia. In 2014, the Russian special services seized Kohver in the territory of Estonia, considering him a spy, although the duties of the ISS officer did not include anything like that.
In 2017, the ISS arrested Artem Zinchenko for spying for Russia. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but after serving about a year of his sentence, he was pardoned in exchange for the release of Raivo Susi, an Estonian citizen who was detained in Russia on charges of espionage.
According to the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 16 Russian diplomats have been expelled from Estonia in five years. Considering this and also the expulsions of the previous years, it seems that they are constantly doing something that is against the international diplomatic law.