Spy row as Kremlin agent in Estonia tells all on Russian TV

In a rare disclosure by a spy agency, Russia`s secret service has revealed it had an agent inside the secret police of NATO neighbour Estonia for 15 years.

AFP| Updated: Dec 17, 2014, 10:41 AM IST

Moscow: In a rare disclosure by a spy agency, Russia`s secret service has revealed it had an agent inside the secret police of NATO neighbour Estonia for 15 years.

A documentary entitled "Our man in Tallinn" broadcast Sunday evening on the pro-Kremlin NTV channel showed Uno Puusepp confessing to having fed Russia secrets from within the wiretap department of Estonia`s KAPO secret service between 1996 and 2011.

"You learn as time goes on to live with danger, knowing that... you could spend the next 20 years in prison," said the silver-haired former double agent, who was interviewed sitting in an armchair wearing a check shirt and tie.

Estonia quickly denounced the programme as "full of half-truths and lies" and said it would investigate. A KAPO spokesman said one person mentioned in the film was taken in for questioning but later released, without clarifying possible charges against him.

The timing of the spy`s confession -- coming during heightened tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine -- led observers to speculate Moscow was trying to drive a wedge between the US and former Soviet states in the Baltic region who have joined NATO.

Thanks to Puusepp, Russia systematically obtained reports about KAPO`s relations with the CIA as well as the British, Canadian, Finnish and other Baltic states` intelligence services, the documentary claimed.

Puusepp also helped Moscow to unmask foreign agents in Russia, including Valery Ojamae, who was sentenced to seven years for treason in 2001 for spying for Britain.

The film`s narrator presented Puusepp as a "modest man" who could not sit idly by after Estonia broke from the Soviet Union in 1991 and embraced what he called "Russophobia" and "fascist attitudes".

According to a former Soviet agent in Tallinn interviewed in the film, it was the Estonian who offered his services to the FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

"Estonia`s secret services worked in Russia and handed over information to the United States," a former FSB chief Nikolai Kovalyov claimed in the film.

Nikolai Yermakov, who became Puusepp`s handler, boasted that having an informer inside Estonia`s spy agency meant Moscow "knew everything that was being planned," including spy recruitments, and that the knowledge "allowed (Russia) to take the necessary measures".Puusepp, who has been living in Russia for the past three years, said his achievements also included preventing Washington from planting an expensive wiretap system in the Russian embassy in Tallinn.

Part of his work for KAPO involved tracking hundreds of mostly Russian-speaking Estonians -- a surveillance operation controlled by the US Embassy in Tallinn, according to the documentary.

The Estonians suspected a mole in the service but got the wrong man, the documentary claimed, citing the 2013 arrest of a former Estonian KGB agent, Vladimir Veitman, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for spying for Russia.

KAPO said the film presented the FSB`s version of events and was "full of half-truths and lies aimed at creating confusion".

"Uno Puusepp worked as a technician and had access to Estonian confidential documents but not to confidential NATO or EU information," the agency said.

Yermakov said Puusepp had never harmed Estonia`s interests, informing Moscow only "about things that could hurt Estonia itself". 

His fellow agent had "never taken a single kopeck for his work," he added, referring to a type of Russian coin.

Russian security observers expressed surprise at the revelations.

"To publicly reveal a spy who has just ceased his activities is an extraordinary FSB practice," said Andrei Soldatov, publisher of the Agentura.Ru site, which tracks the security services.

Soldatov predicted the revelation could augur an exchange of agents by Moscow and Tallinn.

Moscow has been holding an Estonian police officer on charges of espionage since September. Estonia accuses Russia of having snatched officer Eston Kohver from inside its territory at gunpoint.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a journalist with Russia`s pro-opposition Novaya Gazeta, said the documentary could be intended "as a warning to Western secret services... to abandon all cooperation with their Estonian colleagues, some of whom are former Soviet agents".