Albion Monitor /News

More Spy Charges Against Russian Enviros by Former KGB

by Sergei Blagov

on Federal Security Service attacks on environmentalists
(IPS) MOSCOW -- Russian radioactive waste bears all kinds of dangers, as ex-naval sea captain-turned-journalist Grigory Pasko has found.

On Tuesday, Jan. 20, Pasko was ordered detained for two more months on suspicion of spying for Japan. Pasko, arrested in November 1997 on his return from a trip to Tokyo, is a columnist and editor at the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet newspaper, Boyevaya Vakhta (Combat Readiness).

He is also the man who brought Russia into global disrepute when he filmed a Russian tanker dumping some of the 800 tons of low-level nuclear waste from dismantled nuclear-powered submarines that the Russian Navy spilled into the Sea of Japan in October 1993.

His worldwide scoop, on behalf of Japanese NHK TV, caused a political outcry in Japan, Russia was plunged into a diplomatic crisis and Tokyo was subsequently forced to provide aid for a waste processing plant in Russia.

Worry that the recent arrest of journalist Grigory Pasko could probably become another Nikitin case
But Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the renamed Soviet- era KGB, never forgot. In November 1997, they arrested Pasko in Vladivostok as he returned from a private trip, claiming that customs officers had found "confidential documents" on Russian naval facilities in his baggage as he left for Japan.

The arrest, and the scandalized complaints that followed, came just as Russia and Japan were marking a major breakthrough in relations.

The same month as Pasko was arrested, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto met in Krasnoyarsk to agree a peace treaty by the year 2000 (the two countries technically never made peace after World War II) and vowed to boost economic, military and diplomatic cooperation.

General Viktor Kondratov, head of the FSB branch in the Russian Far East, denies that Pasko's arrest has anything to do with his environment reports. "It (the arrest) deals with Russia's state secrets," Kondratov told local media here.

Pasko's lawyers have appealed against his detention and say the charges are the Navy's way of retaliating for Pasko's efforts to expose the environmental damage inflicted by the Russian Pacific Fleet.

They say his arrest is actually to silence a critic of the Pacific Fleet's appalling environmental record. For Western campaigners, the arrest signifies a wider threat. "It's worrying that the recent arrest of journalist Grigory Pasko could probably become another Nikitin case," said Diederik Lohman of the NGO Human Rights Watch, in Moscow.

Former Soviet navy captain Alexander Nikitin contributed to a Norwegian NGO report on the environmental threat posed by insecure storage of radioactive waste by the Russian Northern Fleet, based in ports in the Barents Sea. When the report was published by the Oslo-based Bellona Foundation, the FSB arrested Nikitin and charged him with treason for leaking state secrets.

"I revealed no state secrets," says Nikitin, who spent almost a year in jail before Russian authorities bowed to international pressure and released him in December 1996. "The arrest was a surprise for me, because I worked on my report in contact with local authorities and naval commanders," he said.

Nikitin has since repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying he collected the information from press reports, but the FSB is still pressing the accusations.

"The role of independent environmental institutions, like Bellona, is very important in dealing with potentially hazardous situations," Nikitin told IPS. "The independent bodies normally are people-oriented, while government agencies have a tendency to cover up their own environmental blunders."

According to Vladimir Goman, the head of the Russian parliamentary committee on the country's northern areas, the old nuclear submarines and nuclear waste dumps left derelict in northern Russia could easily lead to a disaster. The Russian Arctic Fleet has 90 unwanted nuclear submarines in dry dock and three quarters are believed to be potentially dangerous.

FSB officials claim that since the West has stepped up intelligence operations in post-Soviet Russia
Experts have estimated that reprocessing of all the waste accumulated in Russia will cost some $100 billion, and Moscow plans to organize an international conference on the reprocessing of its nuclear waste next year.

"The information about radioactive waste is of interest not to foreign intelligence but to society as a whole," Nikitin said. "The sooner the issue could be tackled the better for the environmental safety of the region," he added.

Nikitin's lawyers maintain that information on environmental threats can not be kept secret. His lawyers argue that accusations against Nikitin are based on a confidential order by Russia's defense minister attached to a list of secret matters. This is, they say, a violation of the law, which requires such lists must be made public.

"The democratic laws in new Russia often lack consistency, thus creating opportunities for arbitrary interpretations," says Nikitin's lawyer Yuri Schmidt. He also accused the FSB of following the patterns of its predecessor, the KGB.

The city prosecutor in St. Petersburg, Nikitin's hometown, is supposed to decide whether to send Nikitin's case to court. His confident defense lawyers say they will insist on seeing the case through to a final verdict.

"Nikitin's case is likely to become precedent-setting," his other lawyer Henry Reznick told IPS. "We have to stop a practice of accusing people, basing upon confidential instructions and secret orders," said one of Russia's best-known lawyers. Nikitin himself says he won't leave the country until he is exonerated.

Those charged with treason before this year face the death sentence in Russia, but new offenders face a maximum of 20 years in prison.

FSB officials claim that since the West has stepped up intelligence operations in post-Soviet Russia, they have had considerable success in fighting foreign espionage. Once a key part of the KGB, responsible for counter-intelligence and internal security, it became a separate agency when the KGB was broken up.

The FSB claims that it caught 27 "professional spies" and 60 Russians in the pay of foreign powers in 1997.

Meanwhile, construction work on a waste processing facility in Russia's Far East, aimed at preventing Russian dumping of nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan, is costing Tokyo 2.5 billion yen ($21 million).

The facility will process about 7,000 cubic meters of waste a year, and was supposed to be finished by the end of 1996, but was delayed due to changes in Russian nuclear safety standards. Currently the low-level waste is kept in two floating storage tanks outside the docks where the submarines have been decommissioned.

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Albion Monitor January 26, 1998 (

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