Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 204

The espionage trial of accused American spy Edmond Pope took an ominous turn yesterday when the former naval intelligence officer suffered a severe attack of joint and back pain. The attack was serious enough that the Moscow court hearing the case agreed to recess the proceedings for two days. The attack–diagnosed by doctors of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) as rheumatic inflammation of the back and hip joints–is worrying because it could signal the onset of a rare form of bone cancer afflicting Pope. A spokeswoman for U.S. Representative John Peterson of Pennsylvania, who has become one of Pope’s staunchest advocates, said yesterday that the bone pain “is very terrifying… because that’s how he first recognized his cancer when it first surfaced in the 1980s” (AP, UPI, October 31).

Pope’s apparent medical setback will only further heighten the tensions between Russia and the United States surrounding the trial. Washington insists that Pope is innocent of the espionage charges and has criticized Moscow for its unwillingness to release him on bail so that he might receive treatment for his cancer. The case has become a serious enough point of friction that U.S. President Bill Clinton and other top U.S. officials have appealed directly to the Kremlin for Pope’s release. In connection with the case, the U.S. State Department has also issued a warning to American businesses against involving themselves in enterprises with Russian defense industrial concerns. The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, passed a nonbinding resolution last week which urged the Clinton administration to link future aid to Russia with Pope’s release. Moscow, in turn, has criticized what it says is U.S. interference in Russia’s internal affairs, and has insisted that the Russian justice system be allowed to deal with the case in its own time. It has also stonewalled U.S. requests to get Western medical treatment for Pope (see the Monitor, October 13).

Pope was arrested in April of this year by FSB agents, apparently on charges that he tried to procure classified information about technology used in the Russian high-speed Shkval (Squall) torpedo. The illicit transaction allegedly grew out of Pope’s association with Moscow’s prestigious Bauman Technical University and is said by most reports to be based on charges lodged against him by Anatoly Babkin, a professor at the university. The 54-year-old Pope has been imprisoned in Lefortovo prison since the time of his arrest and faces a possible twenty-year prison sentence if convicted. Precise information about the case has been difficult to come by because it is said to be based on presidential decrees related to state secrets, the substance of which has not been revealed to Pope and his Russian legal team. The trial itself, which began last week, is likewise closed to the public, and the information which has been available has come largely from Pope’s lawyers.

As the espionage trial opened last week, Pope’s wife Cheri, together with Peterson and other Pope supporters, expressed their pessimism over his chances both of getting a fair hearing and of winning acquittal. Their pessimism is based not only on the hard line that the Kremlin and the FSB have taken thus far with respect to the case, but also on the Moscow court’s rejection of a whole series of motions put forth in Pope’s defense by his legal team. Indeed, Peterson suggested last week that the trial itself is hopeless, and that Pope’s fate now rests on the possibility of a political deal between Moscow and Washington. “That’s a win-win,” he was quoted as saying on October 27. “The FSB gets their piece of pie: They’ve convicted an American…. and then the Americans will get their win by Mr. Pope being sent home.” Peterson also warned that the failure to resolve the case in a satisfactory manner could “do serious damage to future economic ties” between Russia and the United States (UPI, October 26; Reuters, October 28).

It is difficult to say whether the trial thus far has helped or hurt Pope. On October 25, the opening day of the proceedings, the U.S. businessman read a long statement in which he denied any attempt to gather classified information on secret technologies for the U.S. government. He said that he had trusted a Russian associate to supply him only with unclassified information and never tried to acquire state secrets.

Subsequent to Pope’s statement, several witnesses have provided testimony which might benefit Pope. They include a top torpedo designer and a translator (Pope speaks no Russian) who had been present during Pope’s negotiations with Babkin. Arsenty Myandin, the torpedo designer, reportedly said that the reports he had compiled for Pope about the Shkval contained the results of unclassified research and information that he routinely provided students in lectures. The translator, Tatyana Danilenko, apparently testified that Pope and Babkin had avoided talk of classified topics during their negotiations. It was unclear, however, whether the testimony of a top Bauman University official, Gennady Pavlikhin, had helped or hurt Pope. Pavlikhin apparently contested some of the documentation provided by prosecutors–prompting Pope’s legal team to demand original copies–but also questioned Myandin’s expert credentials (Segodnya, October 27-28; Izvestia, October 28; Russian agencies, October 30).

Against this background and in response to Pope’s apparently worsening health the Clinton administration yesterday called anew for Moscow to release Pope. The U.S. appeal included a telephone call from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to her opposite number in Moscow, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov (Reuters, October 31). Pope’s lawyers, meanwhile, suggested that the trial could be concluded by the time of next week’s U.S. election (AFP, October 30). That means the issue could become even more politicized in Washington. It also means that a failure by the Russians to release Pope could leave the Clinton administration vulnerable on election eve to fresh charges of being too willing to accommodate the Kremlin.