Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 121

A respected Russian scientist, arrested and imprisoned earlier this year on what appear to be bogus espionage charges, has seen his health deteriorate and last week found himself in a hospital suffering chest pains. Valentin Danilov, head of the Thermal Physics Center of Krasnoyarsk’s Technical University, was taken from his detention center to a Krasnoyarsk hospital late in the day on June 18 with a suspected heart attack, his lawyer told reporters the next day. According to the same source, the 52-year-old scientist was chained to a hospital bed and placed under the watch of two security guards posted to his intensive care ward. Danilov’s medical emergency came a day after the Russian daily Kommersant published an interview with him in which he said that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB)–the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB and the agency which arrested and is investigating Danilov–was using psychological torture in an effort to make him confess. Danilov alleged that the FSB was also dragging out the investigation against him in hopes that, in the event he did not confess, the delaying tactics would break his health. Among other things, Danilov claimed that, despite his poor condition, the FSB was ensuring that he was transported for questioning related to his case on hot days in a packed stuffy prison coach. The scientist, who stands just under six feet tall, told Kommersant that his weight had fallen to about 120 pounds since his incarceration on February 16.

Danilov’s case has not received a great deal of attention in the West, possibly because he is accused of passing secrets to the Chinese government rather than to a Western state. But he nonetheless appears in every respect to be but the latest victim in a now long-standing campaign by the Russian FSB to intimidate scientists and defense specialists with ties to foreign organizations (see the Monitor, April 23). Danilov faces twelve to twenty years in jail on charges that he sold to a Chinese company classified information relating to the effects of electromagnetic activity on space satellites. Danilov’s supporters have characterized the case as a sham, arguing both that the information he provided to the Chinese group had long been declassified and that he had also cleared the transaction with the necessary government authorities. The FSB, however, has disregarded the pleas of Danilov’s colleagues and the testimony of the agencies involved and continued to press the case. Indeed, Danilov’s hospitalization came only two days after investigators had added new allegations to the charges against him, these regarding an alleged fraudulent misuse of international bank accounts to launder money. The new charges came a day before Danilov’s four-month pre-trial detention was set to end, and extended the period under which he could be held in prison to July 16 (Moscow Times, June 19; Reuters, June 18, 19; AFP, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 20).

Danilov’s imprisonment, and the heavy-handed treatment being meted out to him, are but the freshest examples of the tactics being used by Russia’s Putin-era security establishment to intimidate a wide range of officials involved in defense related work. In the two best-known cases of this sort, nuclear whistle-blowers Aleksandr Nikitin and Grigory Pasko survived long, harrowing stays in prison before finally being exonerated in Russian courts (although Pasko faces an appeal that could ultimately reverse his acquittal). A U.S. businessman, Edmond Pope, likewise fell afoul of the FSB and despite his own ill health had to endure an arduous several months in prison before finally being pardoned by President Vladimir Putin. Moreover, in addition to Danilov, at least two other Russians are currently also in prison on what appear also to be trumped-up espionage charges. They are Igor Sutyagin, a respected defense analyst from the prestigious USA-Canada Institute who has been in jail since October of 1999, and Valentin Moiseev, formerly a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official with responsibilities in the area of Russian-Asian relations. As with Danilov, there is little to suggest that their ordeals will come to a happy end any time soon. Human rights specialists in Russia and abroad have cited these cases in accusing the Putin government of seeking to incite a form of “spy-mania” that is aimed at chilling civilian defense contacts between Russia and the West and that is moving Russia slowly in the direction of a Soviet-style police state. Critics have also pointed in this same context to a recent directive issued by the Russian Academy of Sciences requiring its members to report their contacts with foreigners to the authorities. The well-known Russian human rights campaigner Sergei Kovalev denounced the directive and said it showed that Russia is a “country where the KGB has taken power” (AFP, May 31; see the Monitor, June 6).