Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 158

Roughly three years after he was first jailed on what human rights advocates have claimed are trumped up espionage charges, a former senior Russian diplomat’s criminal case is yet to be fully resolved. Valentin Moiseev, who at the time of his arrest was serving as head of the Foreign Ministry’s First Asian Department, was first arrested in 1998 on charges of having spied for South Korea. Since that time his case has been compared to those of a host of other Russian citizens who, like Moiseev, appear to have fallen victim to what many believe is the increasingly unregulated power of the country’s Federal Security Service. The FSB is Russia’s domestic counterintelligence agency and the main successor organization to the Soviet-era KGB. It was briefly headed by current Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself a career intelligence officer, and its actions against citizens like Moiseev are believed by many in Russia to reflect a broader Kremlin effort to reinstill in Russian society the sort of spy paranoia that flourished during the Soviet era. Indeed, in addition to Moiseev, Russian human rights activists have pointed to the spying charges leveled against nuclear whistleblowers Aleksandr Nikitin and Grigory Pasko, defense expert Igor Sutyagin, and scientists Vladimir Soifer and Valentin Danilov, arguing that the Kremlin is encouraging a return of “spy mania” in Russia. The cases against all of these men were legally suspect (as was an apparently similarly motivated case against the American businessman Edmund Pope), and all seemed to have the common aim of using intimidation to chill the ties that have developed in the post-Soviet period between Russian defense experts and their foreign counterparts (see the Monitor, January 3, April 23).

It was concerns such as these that motivated leading Russian human rights activists to gather in Moscow last month to denounce the actions of the FSB. Participants made reference to all the cases mentioned above, and spoke of several additional cases that have not yet received a great deal of attention. According to the newspaper Kommersant, these new cases involve two scientists identified only as Mirzoyan and Fedorov (said to have run afoul of the FSB for their investigations into the disposal of chemical weapons), and an inventor named Valery Kovalchuk, who reportedly faces charges for trying to sell to foreign concerns a cartridge that he had developed but which had been rejected by Russia’s own defense complex. Meanwhile, Aleksei Simonov, secretary of the Glasnost Protection Foundation, warned that arrests of this sort are only beginning, and that Russian plans to begin importing nuclear wastes from abroad are one reason why. “The FSB is launching criminal cases without sufficient evidence,” Simonov was quoted as saying in this context. “This means that the country has taken the dangerous road of fabricating criminal cases with serious accusations.” Sergei Kovalev, a one-time dissident and currently a Russian State Duma Deputy, summed up in comments about the FSB’s case against Igor Sutyagin (a defense analyst at Russia’s prestigious USA and Canada institute who faces a twenty-year jail sentence on treason charges; see the Monitor, February 8) what many believe to be the primary motivation behind the FSB’s current more general campaign of intimidation. “Everyone knows that the court should find Sutyagin innocent, but the FSB is guided by another principle,” Kovalev said. It is that “you might be acquitted, but you’ll still have spent years in detention, you bastard.”

Moiseev’s case would seem an apt demonstration of this point. The Russian diplomat was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment in 1999, but the Russian Supreme Court overturned the sentence last year–on grounds that it was “unfounded”–and sent the case back to the same Moscow court that had earlier held three months of closed hearings before ordering a retrial. Indeed, Moiseev, like many of the others who have run afoul of the FSB, has now spent a considerable amount of time in Russia’s dismal and dangerous prison system. And like several of the others, his health has reportedly suffered as a result. Yet the case has dragged on interminably. According to Moiseev’s lawyer, his client’s case has already been considered five times in all, and each time “the lawyers were replaced just as the verdict was about to be handed down.”

On August 14 of this year Moiseev appeared at last to have won a partial victory when the Moscow court hearing his case reduced the earlier twelve-year sentence to four years and six months. The court described its decision as a clemency matter rather than an exoneration, however, and said it based the shorter sentence on Moiseev’s good behavior, his deteriorating health and other mitigating factors. This latest decision would nonetheless leave Moiseev only a little more than a year to serve, since he has already spent more than three years in prison. That was not good enough for the Russian authorities, however. On August 28 prosecutors filed an appeal in the case, arguing that the shorter sentence is not appropriate for the seriousness of Moiseev’s crime. But Moiseev’s own lawyers have also filed an appeal. They are arguing, among other things, that the conviction decision was based on a law on state secrets that was passed after the time when Moiseev allegedly engaged in spying activities.

Indeed, the case against Moiseev would seem from the beginning to have been weak all around. According to Russian reports, the evidence against the former diplomat consists of a set of documents in Korean that mention an agent of the South Korean intelligence services who was paid about US$14,000 for information supplied. But these documents are reportedly of unknown origin and do not name Moiseev as the person in question. Moiseev did reportedly supply the South Korean government with documents, but according to his lawyer the documents were linked to an arms deal then being negotiated between Moscow and Seoul (in his official capacity within the Foreign Ministry Moiseev was involved in Russian policy vis-a-vis South Korea), and none of the documents contained state secrets. Moiseev’s lawyers have accused the FSB of framing their client and blatantly violating the law to get evidence against him (Kommersant, July 17; AFP, July 17, 24, August 1, 14, 29; AP, August 28).