Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 140

Pasko’s tribulations come in the context of a broader effort by Russian military and security service authorities to silence and intimidate those who have dared to expose the health and environmental dangers posed by the Soviet navy’s nuclear legacy. Another Russian naval officer–retired Captain Aleksandr Nikitin–has been waging a battle even better known in the West to beat similar charges leveled by Russian authorities. Nikitin was arrested in February of 1996, more than eighteen months before Pasko, and his case has still not been resolved. He faces charges of espionage and leaking state secrets for work he did on a study published by the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. The study outlined the dangers posed by the Northern Fleet’s nuclear waste storage and disposal practices. Nikitin’s case has also been highlighted by Amnesty International. More recently, Russian lawmakers were outraged when the OSCE approved a resolution that described Nikitin as a “victim of an unfair judicial process” (AP, July 10).

But Pasko’s case may be more closely connected to an investigation of a well-known Russian scientist who, like Pasko, has looked into the Pacific Fleet’s nuclear waste problems. On July 13 reports out of Vladivostok indicated that Vladimir Soifer is under suspicion for illegal possession of secret documents. A week-and-a-half earlier FSB agents had raided his apartment and laboratory, where they confiscated letters, documents and other materials related to his investigative efforts. Some observers speculated at that time that Pasko appeared likely to beat the treason charges against him, and that the FSB was now looking for a new victim to persecute for his investigations into the Pacific Fleet’s nuclear dumping practices (see the Monitor, July 16).

In the meantime, Pasko is apparently mulling over whether he will choose to appeal his conviction on the lesser charges of abuse of military status and violation of state interests. In comments yesterday he suggested that those charges too were fabricated and unjust, and that they were made to ensure that he was not fully exonerated of the treason charges. “Here in Russia, if the KGB takes up a case there is never an acquittal,” he said. “I came out today, but tomorrow someone else will go to jail. First of all we need the precedent of an acquittal” (AP, BBC, Anchorage Daily News; July 20). The FSB is the primary successor organization to the Soviet-era KGB.

Russian legal experts, meanwhile, suggested yesterday that the conviction of Pasko on lesser charges did indeed rest on some shaky legal ground (Russian agencies, July 20). Pasko’s effort to reverse that decision, should he pursue it, could prove to be yet another test of the Russian legal system, and of whether Russian citizens in the post-Soviet era are yet able to defend themselves against the excesses of the state security apparatus.