The legal flip-flops in the case against Grigory Pasko haven’t changed the hard fact at its core: Pasko is still in jail. Navy Captain Pasko fell into the maw of the justice system in November 1997, when he was arrested for helping Japanese journalists expose the uncontested truth about the Navy’s dumping of nuclear waste in the Pacific and the Sea of Japan. Since then he has been convicted, acquitted and convicted again of espionage and treason. He publicly refused a not-quite-offered presidential pardon. His current jail term began in April 2000.

Last week his lawyers won twice. The Supreme Court struck down two defense ministry orders, one secretly classifying some 600 pieces of information as confidential, the other barring personnel with access to secret information from unauthorized contact with foreigners. It’s an unconstitutional Catch-22, said the court, to prosecute someone for revealing public information that was secretly made secret. The court ruled that the second order contravenes a constitutional right of privacy.

The prosecution insists that the case against Pasko remains intact. Pasko’s lawyers will ask to have his convictions voided.

Some Russians speculate that President Vladimir Putin pushed the court to act, in reaction to public and international opinion in support of Captain Pasko. If so, that’s one cheer for Putin, none for the court. But the court’s ruling could affect other jailed “spies” as well, including defense analyst Igor Sutyagin, businessman Viktor Kalyadin, scientist Valentin Danilov and diplomat Valentin Moiseev (see Russia’s Week, February 14, April 25 and June 13, 2001). If Pasko is freed and the court’s ruling sticks and has broad application, then it will be three cheers all around.