As his lawyer had predicted (see Monitor, September 25), retired Russian navy captain Aleksandr Nikitin has been officially charged with treason — for the fifth time. The Federal Security Service (FSB) has indicated that it has finally completed its investigations and a trial date will be set once Nikitin’s lawyers say they are ready. Nikitin was the co-author of a 1995 report published by the Norwegian environmental group Bellona on nuclear pollution caused by the Russian Northern Fleet. Russian authorities were especially critical of a chapter in the report that dealt with nuclear accidents on the fleet’s submarines.
There is a Kafkaesque quality to the campaign against Nikitin. The latest charge is based on a presidential decree that was signed seven months after he had first been detained. Three of the previous treason charges against him were said to have been based on Defense Ministry decrees so secret that his FSB investigator admitted he had not even seen them.
Nikitin has garnered considerable support in the West. Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience during his 1996 imprisonment, and numerous public and private figures have urged the Russian government to drop the charges against him. Most recently, a group of 26 U.S. congressmen participating in the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) appealed to the Russian prosecutor general to reconsider Nikitin’s case. An open trial is likely to be a public relations disaster for the Russian government. (Segodnya, August 20, St. Petersburg Times, September 29 – October 5)
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