Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 5

In a case which had much in common with Nikitin’s, another Russian naval officer won a similar–if less convincing–legal victory in a trial which concluded in Vladivostok on July 20. Captain Grigory Pasko is a military journalist who was arrested by the FSB in November of 1997 on charges of having divulged classified information related to his own investigations into the Russian Pacific Fleet’s handling of nuclear wastes. Like Nikitin, he endured a long and dangerous incarceration in prison and, also like Nikitin, he was ultimately found innocent of the treason charges which the FSB lodged against him. Unlike Nikitin, however, Pasko was convicted of several trumped-up–albeit less onerous–charges (see the Monitor, July 21). Although he was amnestied and faces no additional time in prison, the July 20 decision suggested that Russia’s judiciary remains susceptible to influence by the security agencies. Pasko has appealed his conviction on the lesser charges in the hope of winning a full exoneration. That is a risky move, however, because it opens the possibility that the original case against him could be reopened.

Some observers have suggested that these recent court decisions, and particularly the one rendered by Judge Golets on December 29, could weaken the FSB’s increasingly heavy-handed attempts to discourage whistleblowers from disclosing unpleasant secrets about the former Soviet military’s nuclear legacy. The FSB’s efforts appear aimed also at ending collaboration in this same field of investigation between Russian researchers and their Western counterparts. In fact, however, though the December 29 decision sets an important legal precedent, the FSB’s obvious success in waging long wars of harassment against both Nikitin and Pasko seems likely to chill the efforts of those who might want to follow in the footsteps of those two men.

Indeed, even as Pasko’s legal victory loomed, the FSB launched moves against several other nuclear researchers. On July 3 FSB agents seized documents and letters belonging to Vladimir Soifer, a well-known senior Russian scientist with extensive ties to the West. Soifer has spent some forty years studying the radioactive contamination of Russia’s oceans and, more recently, had been analyzing the effects of the Pacific’s Fleet’s dumping of liquid nuclear wastes into the Sea of Japan. Although Soifer has apparently still not been charged, the search warrant obtained by the FSB in connection with the case alleged that he had violated laws on handling classified materials and that he posed a threat to the country (see the Monitor, July 14, 16).

Other FSB “investigations” have followed. In September a Canadian antinuclear activist named Vladimir Slivyak was detained and questioned. He said that Russian authorities had used their investigations into “terrorism” (in connection with events in the Caucasus) as a pretext for his arrest, and that they had threatened to plant drugs on him (Globe and Mail [Toronto], October 27; see the Monitor, October 29). Then, in late October, a department director at the prestigious USA and Canada Institute was arrested and, on November 5, charged with treason. He was reportedly being held on suspicion of having spied for the United States and, more specifically, of having passed classified information to Joshua Handler, an American nuclear security expert. Handler’s apartment in Moscow was searched by federal agents on October 27–the day of Sutyagin’s arrest–and a computer and documents were seized (see the Monitor, November 22).

From a human rights perspective, efforts by Russian security agencies to chill nuclear-related environmental research is worrying. But it is perhaps no coincidence that the intensification of FSB efforts in this area have come amid a resurgence of influence for both the Russian military and the security establishment, and as a one-time FSB director–Prime Minister and acting President Vladimir Putin–rose to the pinnacle of political power in Russia. Indeed, reports yesterday said that Putin had signed off on a revised Russian national security blueprint. Details of the changes endorsed by Putin remain unknown, but it would be no surprise if they include an enhancement of the powers of the Russian intelligence establishment. Upon being named acting President, Putin had suggested that the authority of the country’s security services would be strengthened (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, January 6).