Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 229

Richard L. Bliss, the 29-year-old American technician arrested on November 25 by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), was released on bail over the weekend but ordered to remain in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don pending his trial. Despite protests from the U.S., Russian authorities on December 5 had formally charged Bliss with espionage for what the FSB claims were illegal surveying activities carried out by Bliss near a Russian military site.

The U.S. government and the company that employs Bliss, the San Diego-based Qualcomm, Inc., have rejected the Russian charges. Qualcomm, which claimed that the Russian authorities had first demanded and then waived $5 million bail on Bliss, described the surveying activities as routine. Qualcomm has signed a contract to install a cellular telephone system in Russia’s Rostov region. Valery Petraev, a Russian lawyer representing Bliss, has said that Qualcomm’s Russian partner, Elektrosvyaz, is at fault for the incident because it failed to obtain the proper licenses for Bliss’s activities.

The release of Bliss over the weekend followed strong protests issued by the U.S. on December 5. According to State Department spokesman James Foley, Vice President Al Gore made the U.S. position clear during a telephone conversation with Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, while Russia’s envoy in Washington was called into the State Department and presented with a formal protest. In addition, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, James Collins, appealed to Russian authorities to release Bliss. U.S. officials were said to have warned their Russian counterparts that the charges against Bliss could harm broader relations between the two countries and might also impede Russia’s economic integration into the world community. (AP, Reuter, December 5-7; The Washington Post, December 7; NTV, December 5; Itar-Tass, December 5-6)

Despite such warnings, however, Russian officials indicated yesterday that they would press ahead with the case against Bliss. A presidential said that the Kremlin was not involving itself in the matter and that all questions regarding Bliss’s status should be addressed to the FSB. An FSB spokesman said yesterday that those who have speculated that charges against Bliss might be reduced are "engaged in wishful thinking." (Reuter, AP, December 8)

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