Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 223

Russian authorities are apparently determined to come down hard on naval officers who reveal details of the environmental problems associated with the country’s aging fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. The most prominent victim of this policy has been retired captain Aleksandr Nikitin, who spent ten months in jail after contributing to a report by a Norwegian environmental organization, Bellona, detailing nuclear pollution on the Kola Peninsula. Nikitin still faces a charge of high treason for details he provided about accidents aboard nuclear-powered ships and submarines — information he claims was already available in the public domain.

Now similar charges have been leveled against a military journalist in the Pacific Fleet. Captain 2nd Rank (Commander) Grigory Pasko is the senior editor of the fleet’s Boyevaya vakhta newspaper. The details of Pasko’s arrest border on the bizarre. He left Vladivostok on November 20 for Tokyo on a visit paid for by the Vladivostok mayor’s office. During the customs check at the airport his briefcase was inspected and several "classified documents" were confiscated. Pasko, however, was allowed to leave for Tokyo. He was then arrested as he returned on November 23, on suspicion of having spied for Japan. On November 28, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Vladivostok said that Pasko had been charged with high treason.

Pasko has hardly been a popular figure at fleet headquarters. He has written a number of articles dealing with the fleet’s poor record in dealing with nuclear waste, and in 1993 he was fined after he made a video for a Japanese television network that showed a Russian naval auxiliary dumping radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan. His colleagues claim that Pasko had no access to classified information, and they believe that his arrest is the result of Pasko’s long interest in the problem of monitoring and neutralizing the fleet’s liquid nuclear waste.

Citing a lack of funding, the Russian Navy and government have done little more than nibble at the growing mountain of nuclear waste created by the Navy. The military has, moreover, been less than eager to cooperate with the civilian agencies involved in this matter — especially with the State Committee for the Protection of the Environment. Last week, it was revealed that a military ecological service had been established to monitor and clean up contaminated military sites, but its focus appears to be on space- and missile-related activity rather than on nuclear-powered ships and submarines. If there is a bright side to Pasko’s arrest it is that his case — like that of Nikitin — will focus domestic and international attention on Russia’s dismal record in protecting the environment from this legacy of the Cold War. (Russian media, November 24-29)

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