Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: see also "Russia's Nuclear Stockpile Rusting" in our last issue.]

Russian Environmentalist Faces Treason Charge

by Andrei Ivanov

Death penalty possible

(IPS) MOSCOW -- A retired Russian naval captain who helped a Norwegian non-governmental organization prepare a report on environmental damage at Arctic nuclear naval facilities has been arrested on suspicion of treason, a charge that, if proven, could carry the death penalty.

Environmentalist Alexander Nikitin has been held in isolation in Litaynli 4 jail since Feb. 6th. The charges were brought under Article 64 of the criminal code following his work with the Norwegian environmental group, the Bellona Foundation.

He was co-author of a Bellona report published in November on the nuclear submarine base of Zapadnaya Litsa in the Arctic which looked at the dangers posed by nuclear waste.

It 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. Another more detailed report is planned.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) -- formerly the KGB -- has so far refused Nitkin access to his lawyer, Yuri Schmidt, unless Schmidt first signs a series of agreements which he claims would seriously compromise his professional standing.

"We will release our information whatever happens," says Bellona spokesman Igor Kudrik, a co-author of the report, who works out of Bellona's Murmansk office. The charges carry a possible prison sentence of 10 to 15 years with confiscation of personal property or even the death penalty.

Latest in a series of moves by the security services to hinder Bellona

Nikitin, aged 43, lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Tatyana, and two teenage daughters, and is a retired naval captain. Originally from Ukraine, he graduated from the Naval High School for engineers in Sevastopol in 1974.

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

Since then he has been working as a car dealer in St. Petersburg, after failing to find civilian work in the nuclear safety field. He has been doing occasional contract work with Bellona since 1994.

"He was arrested early on February 6th, by five security policemen at his apartment in St. Petersburg," says Kudrik. The agents cut off his phone, sealed the apartment and detained Nikitin initially for what they said would be a three-hour interrogation. Later, they called to say he had been arrested for espionage.

Bellona has engaged lawyers in St. Petersburg and Moscow to defend Nikitin, but yesterday the FSB told lawyer Yuri Schmidt that no access would be granted to Nikitin unless he first signed agreements with the FSB regulated by the security organization's own secret laws.

"This would entail an undertaking not to travel abroad for five years and submitting indefinitely to having his phone tapped and post opened," explains Bellona's Thomas Nilsen, the third author of the report. "this would effectively put an end to Schmidt's professional career as a lawyer."

Nilsen points out that the FSB is violating the 1992 Russian Constitution which forbids security organizations from working under their own secret laws.

The arrest of Nikitin is the latest in a series of moves by the security services to hinder Bellona's work.

In October, security agents raided houses belonging to Bellona workers in Murmansk and St. Petersburg, including Nikitin's flat, confiscating equipment and copies of a report about nuclear contamination in the Arctic.

On that occasion they confiscated his passport which put an end to his hopes of emigrating to Canada where he had planned to start his own business.

"Nikitin is an innocent victim of a tyrannical regime seeking revenge against the Greens"

In November, the European Parliament voiced its concern about environmental and democratic rights in Russia with regard to the actions against Bellona, which insists that its information comes from publicly available sources.

Until his resignation earlier this year, the support of the pro-Western Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, offered Bellona some protection from security service harassment. However, his successor, Yevgeny Primakov, is a former KGB chief.

Last month, security agents confiscated Bellona reports and sent them to a naval commission to determine if they held state secrets.

"European ecological groups are already collecting signatures and sending protest letters to Russian embassies," says Nilsen.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution in support of Nikitin on February 15th, which the Russian Foreign Ministry described as "interference." The issue has also been raised in the Swedish parliament.

Several U.S. ecological groups have sent a joint message to U.S. Vice-President Al Gore demanding his help to free Nikitin as soon as possible.

Nikitin also has the support of Russian environmental and human rights groups including the Memorial society and the Social Ecological Union.

"Captain Nikitin is an innocent victim of a tyrannical regime seeking revenge against the Greens," says Olga Razbash, an expert on environment protection legislation. "The Nikitin case crudely violates constitutional premises on human rights, says Valentin Gefter of the Memorial Society."

Human rights activists intend to appeal to the federal Constitutional Court and demand open hearings on the Nikitin case.

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Albion Monitor March 10, 1996 (

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