Estonia convicts a university professor from Russia of spying for Moscow

A university professor was jailed Tuesday in Estonia after being found guilty of spying for Russian military intelligence, part of a campaign of sabotage, electronic warfare and information gathering that Estonian officials blame on Moscow.

Viacheslav Morozov, a Russian citizen who taught at Estonia's country's most prestigious university, was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for undermining the security of the Baltic state during the 14 years he operated in the country until his arrest in January.

Estonian officials are extremely hawkish about the threat from Russia and have convicted a number of people of spying for Russia in recent years. Harju County Court in the Estonian capital said Morozov collected information about Estonia’s defense and security policy and the people and infrastructure related to it.

Estonia has a large Russian-speaking population and court documents said Morozov also provided Moscow with information on the situation involving social integration and political issues in the country.

Political relations between Russia and Estonia have been icy since 1991, when Estonia regained its independence from the former Soviet Union. The Baltic state shares a border with Russia and is one of the most vocal supporters of Ukraine and the biggest provider of aid as a percentage of gross domestic product.

Estonian officials refused to disclose Morozov's plea and said his trial was held behind closed doors because of security concerns.

The Director of Estonia's Internal Security Service, Margo Palloson, said Moscow was particularly interested in any changes in Estonia's security and defense policy and in “everything that is believed in the West” about the war in Ukraine.

Morozov was recruited in Russia in the early 1990s, when he studied at St. Petersburg State University and was influenced by the fact he was a Russian citizen but also by the “romance of intelligence,” Palloson said during a joint news conference with Estonia's state prosecutor's office after the verdict.

While Morozov cooperated with the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence arm, he was never a staff officer and did not actively start working for them until 2010, when he moved to Estonia, Palloson said.

The Estonian spy chief said the University of Tartu was not the main target for Morozov's espionage but rather he used his standing as a professor to access conferences and key people in order to collect information on Estonia's internal, foreign and defense and security situation.

That information was mainly passed on during his frequent trips to Russia, Palloson said, adding that Morozov became more active after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including handing over the personal information of people in Estonia who he thought Russian intelligence might be able to recruit.

Morozov received a fee for his work for the GRU but this was not his primary motive as “the sums were insignificant,” the Estonian state prosecutor’s office and the domestic intelligence service said in a joint statement Tuesday.

Palloson warned against travel to Russia, saying Russia's spy services are aggressively trying to recruit Estonians, including by manipulating or pressuring them to work for Moscow.

Referencing attempts to attract foreign students to study in Russian universities, the Estonian spy chief said Russia wants to recruit students in the hope that they may go on to achieve positions of influence later in their careers that may be useful for Moscow.

Estonian officials view the spying as part of a broader campaign by Russia, which has included sabotage and attacks across Europe including in Lithuania, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told The Associated Press in May that Russia is conducting a “shadow war” against the West.

This year, 13 people have been arrested in Estonia over attacks allegedly organized by Russian military intelligence operating under diplomatic cover, and flights between Finland and the city of Tartu were disrupted by Russian jamming of GPS signals.


Associated Press writer Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.

Emma Burrows, The Associated Press