Russia and Estonia on Saturday exchanged two prisoners who had been convicted of espionage, carrying out the swap on a bridge at a border post between the countries.
According to a statement by the Russian Federal Security Bureau, Eston Kohver, who last month was sentenced to 15 years in a Russian prison for spying, was handed over to Estonian authorities in exchange for Alexei Dressen, a former Estonian security officer who was serving a 16-year sentence in Estonia for giving state secrets to Russia.
Dressen’s wife, also convicted in the case, was transferred to Russia before the two men crossed the bridge over the Piusa River.
Russia’s Channel One television described the exchange as “resembling a scene from a film: a bridge, a river, an exchange exactly in the middle.”
As they passed on the bridge, the two men appeared to exchange words, but then Dressen waved off Kohver.
Kohver was arrested last year just days after president Barack Obama’s visit to Estonia, on the day of a NATO meeting at which members reasserted the need to defend the Baltic region.
Estonia has maintained that Kohver was kidnapped from inside Estonia, while Russia claimed that he was found with arms and cash on the Russian side of the border while spying.
Estonia and Western governments had condemned his detention and sentencing.
"I think the Russians had no further use of him and wanted to get rid of him," said Kadri Liik of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a research group.
Martin Hurt, deputy director of the International Center for Defense and Security, a research group in Tallinn, said the release of Kohver might have been timed to coincide with the UN General Assembly meeting, where president Vladimir Putin of Russia is to speak and meet with Mr Obama.
"Moscow wanted to get the Kohver incident off the table," he said.
The Russian media described Dressen in heroic terms. RIA Novosti, an official state news agency, on Saturday quoted an unnamed Russian official as saying that Dressen had worked for Russian counterintelligence agencies since the 1990s, turning over information about US and British spy operations in the Baltic countries.