Although events over the holiday season were dominated by the changeover of power in Moscow, several other noteworthy developments occurred. In St. Petersburg there was a rare victory for the rule of law in Russia, as accused former navy captain Aleksandr Nikitin won acquittal on charges that he had divulged state secrets in preparing a report on nuclear pollution caused by the Russian Northern Fleet. The unexpected decision by Judge Sergei Golets appeared to bring to an end a four-year battle between Nikitin and the Russian Federal Security Service, whose heavy-handed investigation of Nikitin had generated a hail of criticism by human rights groups around the world. Despite Nikitin’s victory, however, there was little indication that Russian authorities are prepared to abandon a campaign of intimidation aimed at those trying to investigate the former Soviet military’s deadly nuclear legacy. The campaign appears to be aimed in particular at chilling contacts between Russian experts in this area and their counterparts in the West.
The coming of the new year did manage, finally, to produce an equally rare example of fruitful cooperation between the Russian and U.S. militaries. On December 31 nineteen Russian officers sat side-by-side with U.S. military personnel at the so-called Center for Y2K Strategic Stability at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In what was described as a gratifyingly boring and uneventful vigil, the two groups jointly monitored the skies to guard against any false warnings of missile attacks brought about by the year-2000 computer bug. U.S. officials later hailed the “early warning” project in Colorado as a first step toward renewed military cooperation with Moscow. But the difficulties that the two sides had faced in finalizing the project (Moscow renounced the venture following the start of NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia in March), suggested that the Russian Defense Ministry is still in no hurry to regularize its relations with the U.S. defense department. A near-term renewal of Russian military cooperation with the West more generally is likely also to be slow in coming.