A Russian spy has reportedly defected to Estonia and is now seeking asylum in the NATO country over his opposition to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
The spy, identified as Artem Zinchenko, spoke to Yahoo News in early October for an article published Thursday about the “awful situation” triggered by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine that started in late February.
“It is the worst scenario that could even be imagined in my mind, and it was not only because my relatives live there, but because of the huge number of innocent victims,” Zinchenko said.
Zinchenko’s defection to Estonia was actually a return for the Russian spy after he was arrested by the country in 2017 and traded back to Russia in a swap a year later, Yahoo News reported. Zinchenko said that when he arrived home in 2018, “everything had changed dramatically” and described Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime as having “all the aspects of totalitarianism.”
“You know, before and during my process, I saw that the law works much better here than in Russia,” Zinchenko told Yahoo News. “During my situation, the Estonians told me they were not out to destroy my life or my business. This was a competition between intelligence services, they explained, and I was caught up in the middle of it.”
The loss of Zinchenko to Estonia could be the newest embarrassment for Putin as he faces numerous military defeats and opposition from civilians and officials in his own country. Recently leaked emails from a whistleblower at Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) that were shared with News week detailed inner turmoil and conflict within the Kremlin and said Russia will soon “descend into the abyss of terror” while war fatigue grows.
On the ground in Ukraine, Putin recently saw what experts believed was a major political blow for the Russian president when the Kremlin announced its withdrawal from the city of Kherson. Kherson was the only regional capital Russia had managed to capture in the Ukraine war, and Putin’s loss of the city is especially significant because it is located in one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia declared would be annexed in late September.
The Russian army’s woes in the war are likely to only worsen during winter. Sean Spoonts, a US Navy veteran and editor-in-chief of Special Operations Forces Report (SOFREP), told News week that the issues Russian soldiers in Ukraine could experience include exposure-related deaths, keeping warm in the colder months and ensuring adequate supplies for troops who have already reportedly been facing equipment shortages.
“All the problems that Russia had in the beginning of this war in February–they’re going to have those problems again. And they’re not prepared for it,” Spoonts said. “They weren’t prepared to equip a summer army. A winter army is even harder.”
News week reached out to the Kremlin for comment.