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US calls on Russia to release jailed Estonian officer

Employee of the Tartu Department of Estonian Security Police (KAPO) Eston Kohver. ©RiA Novosti Employee of the Tartu Department of Estonian Security Police (KAPO) Eston Kohver. ©RiA Novosti

The United States on Wednesday called on Russia to release an Estonian intelligence officer who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for spying and weapons possession, calling the charges "baseless", AFP reports.

The sentencing of Eston Kohver, an officer for Estonia's KAPO internal security service, came in a court in Russia's western Pskov region, which borders Estonia.

Russia says Kohver was detained last September on Russian soil, but Tallinn accuses Moscow's FSB security service of kidnapping him from Estonian territory.

Kohver's "abduction, detention, and now conviction on baseless charges demonstrate a flagrant disregard by Russian authorities for the rule of law," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

"We call once again on the Russian Federation to act in accordance with its international obligations and immediately return Mr Kohver to Estonia."

Tensions between Russia and the ex-Soviet Baltic states have soared over Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and alleged backing of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Washington and Moscow -- who often spar over human rights issues -- are also experiencing their worst diplomatic crisis since the end of the Cold War. 

Many in Estonia believe the timing of Kohver's arrest was deliberate, coming just two days after US President Barack Obama visited Tallinn in a show of support for Baltic security following Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis.

Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand has slammed Kohver's trial, saying there had been "no fair administration of justice in the proceedings" and that he was deprived of adequate legal aid.

Kirby said Washington was "troubled by reports that Mr Kohver did not receive adequate legal representation from his attorney, who was appointed by Russian authorities, and that neither the public nor the Estonian consul were permitted to be present during the judicial proceedings."

Estonian officials claim Kohver was ambushed at gunpoint by Russian FSB agents in a set-up as he thought he was going to meet an alleged informant in a smuggling case involving organized crime.

The European Union has also urged Russia to free Kohver, with the bloc's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini denouncing his "abduction" as a violation of international law.

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