With thick smoke rising from the nearby border with Russia, a helicopter clattering over her summer cottage and her village’s narrow country lanes swarming with emergency vehicles, Leide Heliste, a 67-year-old Estonian pensioner, feared the worst.
“I was so frightened,” Ms. Heliste said, recalling her panic when, shortly after 9 o’clock on a Friday morning, this tiny border village slipped into a vortex of uncertainty and fear. “I did not know what was going on. I worried it might be war.”
It was not the start of a war but, a month after loud explosions, a cloud of smoke and the din of sirens set nerves jangling in this sleepy corner of southeastern Estonia, officials in the capital, Tallinn, and far beyond are still trying to figure out what had started and why.
On the answer hinges whether Estonia and also the NATO alliance to which it belongs face the danger of a push by Russia to reprise in the Baltics some of the tactics it used to dismember Ukraine or just another nerve-racking episode in the revived Cold War saga of spy-versus-spy between East and West.
So far, the only solid fact, at least according to Estonia’s version of what happened in a thicket of pine trees and scrub on the border here with Russia, is that a well-trained and well-armed squad of Russian security operatives crossed into Estonia on Sept. 5 and grabbed Eston Kohver, a veteran officer in the Estonian Internal Security Service, known as KAPO.
Their movements masked by a volley of smoke and stun grenades, in the Estonians’ telling, the Russians dragged Mr. Kohver at gunpoint into Russia across the meandering and mostly unmarked line that separates the two countries.
The Crossroads of Special Operations