Harju County Court, Tallinn, Estonia
Harju County Court, Tallinn, Estonia. Image: kohus.ee

Estonia sentences Russian professor to six years in prison for espionage

An Estonian court has sentenced Viacheslav Morozov, a professor at the University of Tartu, to six years in prison for espionage activities conducted on behalf of the Russian intelligence services.

Morozov was arrested in January by Estonia’s Internal Security Service (Kaitsepolitseiamet or Kapo) on suspicion of facilitating and conducting intelligence activity targeting the country.

Harju County Court in the capital city Tallinn found Morozov guilty on Tuesday of activities against the Republic of Estonia on behalf of a foreign intelligence service, as reported by the public broadcaster ERR.

Kapo’s director Margo Palloson told ERR that the professor collected information about Estonia’s defense and security sectors, including on individuals and infrastructure, and disseminated it to Russian spies during his regular trips to the country.

Taavi Pern, the chief prosecutor of Estonia’s state prosecutor's office, said the court's judgment verified that Morozov “had a long-term cooperation with the operational intelligence unit of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU).”

Morozov, who is a Russian citizen, formerly worked at St Petersburg State University before moving to Tartu in 2010, where his academic work included a longitudinal study on “National identity and Estonian-Russian relations.”

Kapo said that Morozov was recruited by Russian intelligence services while a student in Russia, and that the GRU ordered him to start active operations once he moved to Estonia. “The decisions Morozov made in the distant past affected him years later,” the agency stated.

“Russia’s special services tasked Morozov with collecting information about the Republic of Estonia’s internal, defence and security policies, as well as the people and infrastructure connected to these fields in Estonia,” said Pern.

“For example, Morozov sent Russia’s special services information about Estonia’s political situation and elections, alliances, and social integration,” the chief prosecutor added. “This included facts he had access to as a researcher as well as public information that Russia can use to endanger Estonia.”

The GRU did not interfere with Morozov's academic work, said the Estonia prosecutor's office, which said that although the Russian received a fee for working as an intelligence agent, “the sums were insignificant.”

Estonia, which was occupied by Russia during WWII — with tens of thousands of Estonian families deported to Russia, including the mother of current Prime Minister Kaja Kallas — has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine as it resists Russia’s full-blown invasion.

The country’s intelligence agencies are recognised among NATO allies as an authority on Russia. Its foreign intelligence service was praised highly by Sir Richard Moore, the chief of the U.K.’s MI6, at the Aspen Institute last year: “I mean, gosh, pound-for-pound [they] probably knock us into a cocked hat.”

Estonia has been credited for conducting almost half of all counterintelligence convictions in Europe between 2011-2021, according to a report by Sweden’s Defence Research Agency.

An analysis by the International Centre for Defence and Security, partly written by Estonia’s prosecutor general, suggested these convictions were not a product of a greater focus on Estonia by Russia, but were likely due to the Estonian security services’ competence.

“Morozov's case shows that sooner or later we will get to the most conspiratorial agent,” said Margo Palloson, the head of Kapo. “We advise those working for the Russian special services to contact us themselves.”

Editor's Note: Story updated 9:35 a.m. Eastern U.S. time with more details about the case.

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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.