Russian authorities detained an Estonian diplomat in St. Petersburg for around an hour-and-a-half Tuesday. The diplomat, Mart Lätte, is one of three Estonian consuls in the city. The grounds for his detention was ‘receiving classified materials,’ Russian news portal RIA Novosti reports.
Russia’s internal security service (FSB) detained Lätte, and has stated that his: “Activity is incompatible with the status of a diplomatic worker and has a clear hostile character towards Russia,” RIA Novosti reports (link in Russian).
Estonia’s foreign ministry has condemned the action, calling it a provocation.
Ministry spokesperson Aari Lemmik told Tuesday evening that: “Our response is one of condemnation of Russia’s action. It is illegal, a provocation, and damaging to EU member states and the EU as a whole.”
“It is in Estonia’s interests to have good neighbors and constructive relations with its neighbors,” Lemmik went on.
“We expect Russia to follow the principles of international law in its conduct,” he added.
Russian authorities say measures stipulated by norms of international law will apply to Lätte’s situation, RIA Novosti reported.
Lemmik told that Lätte had been detained for around 90 minutes after leaving a meeting at the Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, on suspicion of obtaining sensitive documents.
Lemmik said the accusation was a fabrication and without grounds, adding that it underscores Russia’s choice of going down the route of confrontation instead of constructive dialog, in so doing continuing a trend for the souring of relations between it and the EU.
It also demonstrates Russia is not interested in constructive talks with its near neighbors, he added.
A similar incident reportedly took place in April when a long-serving Ukrainian Consul to St. Petersburg was detained, on similar charges, and subsequently expelled. Kiev declared a Russian embassy employee persona non grate as a result, while both countries later expelled on diplomat each.
Also in April Estonia expelled one Russian diplomat from its soil, in solidarity with the Czech Republic, which had sent away over a dozen members of the Russian diplomatic corps, following allegations that Russian secret agents had been involved in a 2014 explosion at an ammo dump which killed two in that country.
Russia followed suit a week later by expelling an Estonian diplomat. From then until mid-May, Estonia was on a list of states deemed unfriendly to the Kremlin.
Estonia has a Consul General in St. Petersburg, Eric Laantee Reintamm, who is supported by three Consuls: Lätte, Marika Kõiv-Urm and Margus Haugas.