Albion Monitor /News

Nuke Whistleblower Facing Trial For Treason

by Andrei Ivanov and Judith Perera

on Aleksandr Nikitin case
(IPS) MOSCOW -- Lawyers defending retired Soviet nuclear submarine captain Aleksandr Nikitin say he cannot expect a fair trial, given the new charges brought against him by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

Nikitin was arrested in February 1996 for allegedly revealing "state secrets" to the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, which was preparing a report on radioactive contamination of the Kola Peninsula.

He was released from pre-trial detention in December after an intense legal struggle and is now effectively under city arrest.

The defense lawyers believe the FSB is counting on a biased court, which will rule as ordered
According to his lawyer, Yuri Shmidt, the FSB -- the feared Cold War KGB, renamed -- is seeking to maximise Nikitin's possible prison term by charging him with treason under the new Criminal Code, which took effect in January 1997.

The Code allows longer prison sentences for treason. At the same time, the FSB is charging Nikitin with revealing state secrets under the old Criminal Code, which carries harsher penalties.

"The situation is now quite ridiculous," Knuterik Nilsen of Bellona told IPS in a telephone interview. "The FSB is combining the old and new legal systems in order to ensure the severest penalties if he is convicted." The charges of high treason are based on the new Penal Code.

The high treason article (275) in the new Code is fundamentally different from the comparable article in the old Code and allows for a longer prison sentence -- 8-20 years instead of the 10-15 years specified in the old Code.

However, the charges related to disclosure of state secrets are based upon article 75 in the old Code. This is identical to article 283 in the new Code but carries stricter punishment.

Shmidt fears that any new trial will not be independent. He believes the "new" charges, based on extra FSB investigations but adding nothing new, have already been approved at a high level in Russia. The new charges were made on June 17 following additional investigations ordered six months earlier by the Prosecutor General.

Nikitin is still accused of high treason, revealing of state secrets and falsification of documents. The third military expert group established to evaluate the documents of the case, drew their conclusions based on secret defense ministry decrees to which neither Nikitin nor his lawyers have access.

As in previous investigations, the experts refused to look into the list of sources of published information submitted by the defense.

The results of the new investigation must now go before the St. Petersburg Prosecutor and the Prosecutor General who will then decide whether or not to make formal charges.

If Nikitin is charged, the trial is expected to take place in the autumn.

The defense lawyers believe the FSB is counting on a biased court, which will rule as ordered, since no impartial court would consider the case in its present state.

"In such a situation, no fair trial can be expected," says Nilsen. As in the earlier stages of the case, Nikitin's basic rights are being ignored, in particular his right to know the contents of the charges, which are based upon unpublished decrees.

This clearly compromises his ability to mount a proper defense. As it was before, Nikitin is totally excluded from the process of investigation.

There's no doubt that Russia's most severe ecological threats are those of the nuclear military fleet and its wastes. -- but for the navy, there's obviously still a cold war going on somewhere
The latest investigation was not conducted by a competent independent expert group, but by a team of four officers with the rank of colonel from the headquarters of the Russian Ministry of Defense -- the same officers who conducted the two previous evaluations.

The investigative body rejected a defense proposal to include in the team of experts three academicians and other authoritative specialists.

Even then Nikitin was not allowed to state his own case to the expert group although he was legally entitled to do so. As before, the experts refused to consider the list the open sources used to prepared chapter 8 of the Bellona report at the center of the case.

Nevertheless, the new charges do not concentrate on the report itself, but on the notebooks confiscated from Nikitin's home. Nikitin's lawyers Yuri Shmidt and Henry Reznik together with human rights organizations Helsinki Watch and Citizen's Watch told a press conference in Moscow two days ago that the case must be dismissed unconditionally.

They explained that no unbiased court would agree to consider the case as it stands while, at the same time, no judge would dare to take the responsibility to dismiss the case.

"The case may last for a long time, going to and fro between the court system and the FSB investigative body," says Reznik. The decision ultimately rests with the General Prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Bellona continues to be denied visas to visit Russia. No reason was given when the visas were first denied last October. However, the Russian Ambassador to Norway, Yuri Fokine finally explained on Jun. 22 that Bellona members would still be welcome if they were working as environmental investigators.

"But frankly speaking, we do not know any human rights organization named Bellona," he told reporters in Oslo. "And when the group becomes involved in such matters we do not want them in Russia. If Bellona tries to act as an human rights group, I am afraid their chances of getting visas are bleak."

But how is Bellona -- or any other environmental group or organization -- supposed to work when their co-workers get arrested and accused of treason because they look into nuclear and military matters, ask Bellona members.

There's no doubt that Russia's most severe ecological threats are those of the nuclear military fleet and its wastes. But for the navy, there's obviously still a cold war going on somewhere.

Consequently, the navy defines its own environmental impact as a state secret -- and the new Russian constitution goes unheeded.

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Albion Monitor July 13, 1997 (

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