Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 187

Yet another Russian scientist with ties to a foreign research group has fallen afoul of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). According to the Russian daily Izvestia, the FSB’s regional branch in the Maritime Territory has charged Vladimir Shchurov with illegally importing a militarily sensitive technology, with forming a criminal group, and with taking part in other offenses. Shchurov heads the Pacific Ocean Institute’s acoustic sound laboratory (part of the Russian Academy of Science’s Far Eastern Branch) and was apparently overseeing a joint project between scientists at his own institute and colleagues representing a Chinese laboratory. Last August, Russian customs officials reportedly seized telemetric equipment being sent to the Chinese group for installation on a research vessel. The next day, FSB agents conducted a search of Shchurov’s institute on suspicions that it had illegally transferred a piece of “dual-use” technology–that is, technology with both civilian and military applications. Shchurov was charged last week and faces a possible prison sentence of up to twenty-seven years.

Shchurov’s case appears to be but the latest in a series of actions which Russia’s security services have taken against native scientists or researchers whose work brings them into contact with foreign partners on matters involving militarily sensitive information. Indeed, it may be no coincidence that the charges against Shchurov have been lodged less than a month after Russia’s supreme court finally exonerated the most famous victim of FSB excesses of this sort–retired naval commander Aleksandr Nikitin–of all espionage charges (see the Monitor, September 15). As was the case with Nikitin (and with fellow nuclear-whistleblower Grigory Pasko), the case against Shchurov appears at first sight at least to be a flimsy one. The Russian scientist complained to Izvestia last week that the contract signed between his institute and the Chinese group had been properly approved by the FSB itself, and that it bears the signatures of the relevant FSB officials. The FSB press center has reportedly refused to comment on the matter. Shchurov, meanwhile, has been ordered not to speak publicly about the situation and not to leave the area. Shchurov’s case differs from that of others of this sort in that his dealings were with the Chinese–allies of Moscow with whom Russia has extensive defense ties–rather than with Western or Japanese groups (Izvestia, October 4). It remains to be seen how Chinese authorities will react to the FSB action.

The investigation into Shchurov’s activities, meanwhile, comes as Russian prosecutors continue to build what they say is their case against Edmond Pope, the American businessman whom the FSB arrested this past April on espionage charges. Pope has been held since that time in Lefortovo prison, despite U.S. government protests of his innocence and parallel concerns raised about the state of his health. On September 19, a Moscow court rejected Pope’s appeal for a release from prison on health grounds–the retired U.S. naval officer suffers from a rare form of bone cancer–choosing instead to back an assessment by FSB officials that Pope is fit to remain in prison until his trial (see the Monitor, September 21). That decision was followed on September 21 by an announcement that the government had completed its case against Pope and by another on September 27 saying that Russian prosecutors have formally charged the U.S. citizen and given the go ahead for his trial to take place. Izvestia reported on October 6 that the trial has been scheduled for October 18 (UPI, Reuters, September 21; BBC, AP, Reuters, September 27).

Already sharp tensions between Moscow and Washington over the Pope case looked set to rise further, moreover, following the approval of a resolution by U.S. lawmakers last week. The document, approved by the House International Relations Committee, called on U.S. President Bill Clinton to cut all financial aid to Moscow and to work to block Russia’s entry to the World Trade Organization unless Russian authorities release Pope from prison (AP, October 3; Reuters, October 4). U.S. officials have also warned that the treatment of Pope by Russian authorities could have a chilling effect on U.S. business activities in Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry, in turn, has protested what it says are U.S. efforts to pressure the Russian court considering the Pope case and has denounced the threats to tie Pope’s fate to broader U.S.-Russian relations.