Russia twists spy row to its own advantage

Moscow is trying to turn the Anglo-Russian spying row to its advantage, by using it as a pretext to undermine the neighbouring republic of Estonia.

As more signs emerged yesterday that the spy row between Moscow and London was being allowed to subside, there were further allegations from the Russians that the nine British diplomats accused of "spying" had been investigating the possible transfer of arms and nuclear materials to terrorists via the small Baltic state. But these allegations are probably just crude propaganda, diplomats in London and Moscow say.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said last week that its security services had caught an agent working for MI6, adding yesterday, for the first time, that the man was one of its own. A spokesman told Interfax news agency that the alleged spy was "a middle-ranking diplomat with good prospects". Officials threw no further light on whether Russia still intends to throw out nine British diplomats in response, prompting the most serious show- down over spying between London and Moscow since 1989.

But the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) yesterday renewed its claim that Estonia, independent from Moscow since 1991, had been involved in smuggling weapons to the IRA and to Islamic separatists in Chechnya. The FSB said the arms smuggling took placethrough Estonia's volunteer national guard, Kaitseliit (Defence League), and its secret services - an uncorroborated claim that Estonia has hotly denied, and which has prompted both sides to expel a diplomat.

Estonia still has a border dispute with Moscow, and tends to be sympathetic towards Chechnya. The Baltic republic also has a reputation for discriminating against its Russian population. "With the election campaign in full swing, many candidates, including Mr Yeltsin, happily play the patriotic card," said Izvestia yesterday. "Estonia is the most convenient target for imperial displeasure."

Allegations that senior Estonian officers were trying to sell weapons, explosives, and even nuclear materials to the IRA are seen in London as a way to elicit British sympathy for Russian action against "bandits" based in Estonia. Similar allegations preceded the invasion of Chechnya, which was portrayed as a hotbed of organised crime.

On Sunday, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass said the anti-terrorist branch of the FSB expressed willingness to exchange information with the UK and the Irish Republic on weapons smuggled from Estonia to the IRA.

On 6 May the FSB alleged that "political forces in Estonia deliberately seek to aggravate relations with Russia" by channelling weapons to Russian criminal groups and "illegal armed formations" including Chechen groups through the "extremist" Kaitseliit. Kaitseliit is in fact an official organisation playing a key role in the development of Estonia's defences while its 3,500-strong army is in its formative stages.

The latest allegations follow a stream of threats to crush Estonia if it joins Nato. Boris Yeltsin, and Presidential candidates General Alexander Lebed and Vladimir Zhirinovsky have all threatened invasion.

Western experts treat the reports of any Estonian connection with the IRA with extreme scepticism. Diplomatic sources dismiss them out of hand. David McDuff, an affiliate of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies and an expert in Estonian and Russian affairs said: "This is really crude Boy's Own stuff. But some of the media have been swallowing it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Luxury Brand

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global wholesaler and reta...

Recruitment Genius: Store Manager - Department Store

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This organization is one of the founding names...

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Engineer - IT Managed Services

£30000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company are loo...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence