Moscow notifies Tallin about expulsion of two Estonian diplomats

Moscow has notified Tallinn about the expulsion of two Estonian diplomats, Ehtel Halliste, spokeswoman for Estonia's Foreign Ministry, told RIA in a telephone interview Tuesday. But she would not disclose the names or positions of the expelled diplomats. "We do not give comments on such things, in keeping with the general international practice," she explained.

On Monday, March 22, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Juri Arusoo, Estonian Charge d'Affaires ad interim in Moscow, to inform him that two Estonian Embassy officials had been declared personas non-grata for engaging in activities incompatible with their diplomatic status and harmful to Russia's interests and that they had to leave the country within two days' time.

Last Wednesday, the Estonian Foreign Ministry obliged two Russian diplomats to leave Estonia within forty-eight hours. One left on Thursday and the other, Friday. Both of them are low-ranking diplomats, and their missions in Estonia were coming to a close, anyway. Estonian media speculate that the reason behind the men's expulsion may have been their alleged hunt for sensitive information related to the enlargement of NATO and the European Union.

The first time Estonia had expelled a Russian diplomat since regaining independence was in May 1996. In October 1998, the Russian counter-intelligence officials detained an Estonian national, Ville Sonn, on espionage suspicions. Tallinn then denied the allegation that Sonn had any links with the Estonian military establishment.

In April 1999, Russian special services arrested Pyotr Kalachev, a Tartu-based businessman, whom they charged with espionage for Estonia. Tallinn again denied the charges.

March 2000 saw the detention of a Russian national recruited in Tallinn for spying in favor of Estonia and the United Kingdom.

In August of that same year, the Estonian side accused two Russian diplomats of activity incompatible with their official status and suggested they leave Estonia within the next forty-eight hours. In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry expelled the First and the Third Secretaries of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow.

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