Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 27

The intimidation campaign launched by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), aimed at chilling contacts between Russian and Western defense specialists, is set to continue later this month when the trial of thirty-five-year-old Igor Sutyagin resumes in a Kaluga courthouse. Sutyagin, a defense analyst at the prestigious USA and Canada Institute, was arrested in his home by FSB agents in October of 1999. At that time, and in the following months, reports describing the vague accusations leveled against Sutyagin suggested that he was being charged with having passed state secrets to persons representing either the U.S. or British governments (see the Monitor, January 3). More recent reports, however, have amended that story. Russian investigators have reportedly now concluded that Sutyagin–as he had long claimed–had no access to Russian state secrets. Now he is reportedly accused of having handed over sensitive information to two employees of a British consulting firm, Alternative Futures, for which he did contract work. Sutyagin, who faces up to twenty years in prison, has denied the charges.

Sutyagin’s case is but the latest in a series of legal attacks the FSB has launched over the past several years against Russian specialists in the defense field unlucky enough to have maintained close contacts with Western colleagues or organizations. The best known of these cases involved the naval whistleblowers Aleksandr Nikitin and Grigory Pasko, each of whom faced treason charges for investigative work they did on the problems faced by Russia’s navy in its handling nuclear waste materials. International human rights groups rallied to embrace both Nikitin and Pasko, simultaneously criticizing the FSB for having used trumped up charges to get at the two men and expressing concerns about the independence of Russia’s judiciary. In the end both Nikitin and Pasko were acquitted, but en route both suffered the horror of long imprisonment. Moreover, in a decision which shocked many Russian observers Pasko now faces an unexpected retrial which could reverse his earlier acquittal.

Russian authorities have conducted equally dubious trials against a U.S. businessman and a Russian diplomat. In the far better known of the two cases–and one which threatened Russian-U.S. ties–the retired U.S. naval intelligence officer Edmond Pope was found guilty of having tried to acquire military secrets. Russian President Vladimir Putin ultimately pardoned Pope, but the entire affair reflected much less the magnanimity of the Kremlin than the weakness of the Russian court system and the heavy-handedness of its security forces. The case of Vladimir Moiseev, a former senior Foreign Ministry official who was arrested in 1998 for allegedly handing secret information over to South Korea, has received little foreign attention but appears to follow the pattern set in the Nikitin, Pasko and Pope trials. In 1999 Moiseev was sentenced to twelve years in jail, but, last year–due to the vagueness of the prosecution’s case–Russia’s Supreme Court threw out his conviction. Moiseev’s retrial, held, appropriately enough, in the same court building as Pope’s trial, has not yet concluded.

While there are abundant similarities between Sutyagin’s case and all of these others, including Nikitin’s and Pasko’s in particular, Sutyagin’s may prove to be the most disturbing of all. This is because the Russian authorities appear, if the most recent reports are accurate, to have abandoned even the pretense of accusing Sutyagin of passing classified information to a foreign power. Instead, they appear to be questioning his legal right to perform analysis of sensitive Russian security topics even if the conclusions he reached in his analysis were based solely on a careful reading of open source materials. Equally ominous, the Russian authorities appear also to be challenging Sutyagin’s right to have contracted with a foreign organization to perform defense analysis of this sort. According to Sutyagin’s lawyers, the prosecution is suggesting that two employees of Alternative Futures were actually connected to U.S. intelligence, and that the US$20,000 that Sutyagin received for his work from the British firm constituted some sort of illegal payoff.

That the Russian authorities may be able to make these seemingly dubious charges against Sutyagin stick is suggested, however, by the vagueness of the Russian Criminal Code on questions related to treason. According to Sutyagin’s lawyers, the ruling by the judge in the case is likely to hinge on Article 275, which states that espionage is either “revealing a state secret” or “assisting a foreign organization or their representatives in hostile activities” against Russia. The nature of this assistance is not defined, nor is it specified that a suspect has to know whether the people he is assisting are working for foreign intelligence, the lawyers said.

But if the nuances of the legal case against Sutyagin are unclear, the intent of the FSB in bringing the charges appears to be a good deal more definitive. Sutyagin’s employer, the USA and Canada Institute, is said to be influential with the Moscow foreign policy elite and is seen as liberal and pro-Western. “The effect of putting Sutyagin on trial is to create a climate of fear,” a Russian parliamentary human rights specialist says. “Yet again, the hunt is on for enemies of the state.” The well-known Russian human rights activist Sergei Grigoryants speaks in similar terms. He intimates that the Kremlin has pressured the USA and Canada Institute to take a line toward the West closer to the government’s own. At first, an attempt was made to force the head of the institute, Sergei Rogov, to “see reason,” Grigoryants says. Now one of the institute’s top analysts in on trial (Moscow Times, Izvestia, AFP, Reuters, February 7).

There is no apparent end in sight, moreover, to the efforts of Russian authorities to chill contacts between Russian defense experts and their counterparts abroad. Even as Sutyagin’s case reaches what may be a resolution, the FSB has apparently warmed up its case against another researcher. Reports last week said that Vladimir Soifer, a respected scientist who has studied the navy’s dumping of radioactive wastes into the Sea of Japan, has been summoned anew for questioning by the FSB. Soifer was first accused in July of 1999 of having used classified materials in a fashion that undermined Russia’s military and state security. Soifer has extensive ties with Western organizations (Izvestia, February 1).

That President Vladimir Putin is indeed presiding over a rebirth of the former Soviet intelligence establishment–and is trying “to restore the atmosphere of spy mania” in Russia, as some have charged–is suggested in a series of other comments by Grigoryants. The human rights defender intimates that the FSB has undermined the effectiveness of Russia’s diplomatic corps by recreating the spirit of paranoia and denunciation that pervaded Soviet society during the Cold War. He says that the Moiseev case, for example, has paralyzed the Foreign Ministry. More chillingly, he quotes an unnamed diplomat who says that a confidential hotline has been installed at the Foreign Ministry. Any official there can now dial a number and inform on a colleague. Russian diplomats have also reportedly been ordered to conduct negotiations with foreign partners only in pairs. That is so that one can always keep an eye on the other (Segodnya, January 23; The Guardian, February 6).