Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 175

citizen accused by Russian authorities of espionage suffered another setback this week when a Moscow court refused his appeal for release for a release from prison on health grounds. Edmond Pope, a 54-year-old former U.S. naval intelligence officer, was arrested this past April by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), allegedly in the process of making a transaction involving classified information on a new Russian torpedo. Pope, his legal team, and U.S. government officials have repeatedly proclaimed his innocence of the espionage charges. The issue is important enough to have become a point of friction in Russian-U.S. relations: U.S. President Bill Clinton raised it with his Russian counterpart during talks in New York earlier this month. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, including Pope’s own representative, Pennsylvania Congressman John Peterson, have warned Moscow that their treatment of Pope could ultimately harm Russian-U.S. economic relations and could also adversely affect U.S. aid programs to Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry has responded angrily to threats of this sort, accusing U.S. officials of trying to short-circuit Russian legal procedures and warning against letting the issue impact broader relations between the two countries (see the Monitor, September 12).

Pope’s appeal was aimed at winning his release on bail so that he might undergo medical treatment for cancer while awaiting his trial on the spying charges. Pope reportedly has a rare form of bone cancer, which, though in remission, is said to need constant monitoring. U.S. officials charge that the FSB doctor who has been allowed to see Pope has admitted his unfamiliarity with the type of bone cancer Pope has. The U.S. government has also protested Moscow’s unwillingness to let U.S. doctors in to see Pope. This week the U.S. State Department denounced as “outrageous” Moscow’s failure to meet a commitment to provide the results of tests the U.S. embassy doctor requested. Russian officials, meanwhile, have said that Pope is getting proper medical attention. They also say that his cancer remains in remission and that his health overall is good enough for him to remain in prison until he stands trial.

The Moscow court agreed with this assessment. In its ruling on Tuesday (September 19), the presiding judge said that there were insufficient grounds to release Pope. In remarks of his own to reporters from behind bars in the courtroom, however, Pope said that the nature of his cancer means that the longer he is in prison, “the greater the danger of a problem.” Pope’s supporters say that if his cancer recurs, he might show no symptoms until it is already too late to save him. Meanwhile, Pavel Astakhov, Pope’s lawyer, said on Tuesday that his client’s case is a political one, and that Pope’s only hope of release lies with President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. government has warned that it will hold Moscow responsible for Pope’s well-being. According to AFP, Pope’s trial is scheduled for mid-October (AFP, UPI, AP, September 19; Reuters, September 19-20; Chicago Tribune, Izvestia, September 20).