Retired to a tiny island in an archipelago between Finland and Sweden, Leo Gastgivar awoke early one morning to visit the outhouse in his bathrobe, only to notice two black speedboats packed with Finnish commandos in camouflage fatigues waiting in the bay near his front door.
After an exchange of awkward greetings, Mr Gastgivar went inside, collected a pair of binoculars and watched aghast as the commandos raced off towards the island of his nearest neighbour, a mysterious Russian businessman he had never met or even seen.
“I thought: ‘Wow! That is certainly unusual’,” Mr Gastgivar recalled of the encounter. “Nobody ever visits that place.”
The island, Sakkiluoto, belongs to Pavel Melnikov, a 54-year-old Russian from St Petersburg, who has dotted the property with security cameras, motion detectors and no-trespassing signs emblazoned with the picture of a fearsome looking guard in a black balaclava.
The island also has nine piers, a helipad, a swimming pool draped in camouflage netting and enough housing – all of it equipped with satellite dishes – to accommodate a small army.
The whole thing is so strange that the raid on 22 September, one of 17 in the same area on the same day, has stirred fevered speculation in Finland that the island’s real owner could be the Russian military.