Albion Monitor /News

Russian Scandal as Former KGB Caught Trying to Railroad Enviro Activist

by Judith Perera and Andrei Ivanov

and previous article in this topic
(IPS) MOSCOW -- The head investigator in the case of environmentalist Alexander Nikitin has been dismissed from the inquiry and the rest of the team has been reshuffled, which is seen here as a sign that Russia might lift treason charges against the activist.

The reshuffle has been attributed to revelations that investigators from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) -- formerly the feared KGB -- illegally tried to block the release of the former Soviet atomic submarine captain and anti-nuclear activist from jail.

Nikitin was working for the Norwegian Bellona Foundation environmentalist group, when he was arrested on Feb. 6, 1996 and accused of high treason for contributing to the Foundation's report on environmental hazards resulting from the activities of the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet. The crime of treason carries a death penalty.

"They needed some restructuring just to save face -- they know that they are now unlikely to win the case"
Boris Utkin, head of the FSB, was apparently quietly dismissed in early November, has been replaced by Andrei Kolb, a 60-year-old lower ranking FSB officer who is soon to retire. The reshuffle seems to have been prompted by the Russian Prosecutor General's resolution of a complaint from Nikitin's defense counsel concerning missing documents in the FSB case files.

These documents were an embarrassment to the FSB as they showed that the service had illegally tried to prevent Nikitin's release from custodial confinement in December of last year.

"They needed some restructuring just to save face," explains Thomas Nilsen of Bellona. "They know that they are now unlikely to win the case."

In a ruling on Nov. 6, the Russian Prosecutor General, Mikhail Katuskev, fully accepted the statements of Nikitin and his lawyer, Yuri Schmidt, regarding what the defense called an act of attempted fraud committed by the FSB on Sept. 17.

Nikitin refused to accept the FSB's attempts to close the investigation into his activities, arguing that important documents were missing from the files which had been made available to him.

The missing documents contained evidence of FSB's attempts to transfer Nikitin's case to court in December last year, before his release from custody. At that time, Utkin had refused to acknowledge Nikitin's complaints, claiming that Nikitin had no right to see the documents concerned. Schmidt described the FSB's attitude as "ill-placed and obviously demagogic."

The Prosecutor General has now upheld the formal complaint against the FSB which Schmidt filed on Sept. 30, insisting that the missing documents must be part of the Nikitin files. As a result, on Nov. 12, Nikitin agreed for the first time during two years of investigation, to proceed to the next phase.

According to the Russian criminal procedures code, the accused has the right to read through and comment on all the files of the case against him, before the case can be put before a court.

"Alexander is now reading through all the documents very carefully," says Nilsen. "Most of them are rubbish, but we need to find those that are relevant." Nilsen is optimistic that the case against Nikitin will eventually be dismissed. "I'm sure we will win, as they cannot prove that there is any state secret in our report on the Northern Fleet."

Nikitin, 44, lives in St. Petersburg, where he is under city arrest, with his wife and two teenage daughters. He is a retired naval captain, originally from Ukraine, where he graduated from the Naval High School for Engineers in Sevastopol in 1974.

Until 1985 he was based at the Zapadnaya Litsa naval base with the Northern Fleet, before being transferred to Moscow, where he worked until 1992 in the Defense Ministry's control agency for nuclear safety.

After he retired he worked as a car dealer in St. Petersburg when he was unable to find civilian work in the nuclear safety field. He has been doing occasional contract work with Bellona since 1994.

Tons of radioactive waste from the Russian northern fleet posed more danger than the nuclear accident at Chernobyl
Treason charges against him were brought under Article 64 of the criminal code (disclosing state secrets) and Article 75 (using a false document). The FSB later cited other "secret" documents which they applied to his case retroactively.

The FSB accused Nikitin of collecting classified information and passing it to Bellona. Nikitin did not hand in his officer's pass after he retired in 1992 and used it to visit one of St. Petersburg's military units, where he examined documents classified as secret and top secret.

The FSB said Nikitin copied excerpts from the documents and used them in the Bellona report he co-authored with Nilsen and Igor Kudrik: "The Northern Fleet: Sources of Radiocontamination."

However, Bellona has argued that all of the information in its report was available in previously published sources. The report concluded that thousands of spent nuclear fuel assemblies and tons of other radioactive waste from the Russian northern fleet posed more danger than the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

The case also raised human rights issues. Schmidt says the FSB acted in violation of the Russian Constitution because the charges were based on secret, unpublished Ministry of Defense decrees.

Growing international support for Nikitin has undoubtedly been an important factor in the case. Amnesty International has declared him a prisoner of conscience, the first in Russia since the collapse of the USSR.

"Although we are confident of eventual success, we still don't know how long the case may drag on," says Nilsen. He explains that it could now go one of three ways.

There could be a completely new investigation, though this would be the fifth since the case began. The case could also be dismissed completely by the Prosecutor General, or it could be referred to the civil courts in either St. Petersburg or Moscow.

"It will probably be after Christmas before we get a decision," says Nilsen. "And the worst thing is that until then, Alexander will remain under city arrest."

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Albion Monitor December 8, 1997 (

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