Siberian environmentalist in Court – again

Publish date: December 8, 1999

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

Nickolai Schoor, a scientist and environmentalist in the closed Siberian city of Snezinsk, faces the court again. The judge this time acted as assistant procurator last time, while the procurator now is the son of the judge. Behind this is another amazing story from the daily fight between the security forces and environmentalists in Russia.

Nickolai Schoor was one of the first Russian environmentalists to face the trouble makings from FSB (former KGB). Back in 1994, he was arrested for the first time because he had measured increased levels of radioactivity several places in his city, among them in a kindergarten. He spent half a year in custody and was released in May 1995.

In this interview with Bellona Web, made in St. Petersburg, Schoor clearly indicates that FSB has decided that environmentalists is one of the major targets in their political strategy.

8,000 NKVD veterans


Schoor lives in Snezinsk in the South-Urals, formerly a top-secret city called Chelyabinsk-70. The city didn’t exist on any map. The inhabitants were not even allowed to tell their relatives where they lived or worked. Together with Arzamas-16 (today Sarov) the city was the main research centre for nuclear weapons. Stalin’s most feared companion, Lavrenty Beria wanted the nuclear bomb and created the city in the late fourties. Beria was executed shortly after Stalin’s death in 1953. But he still has his supporters in Snezinsk, a total of 8,000 NKVD veterans live in the City. The later feared KGB was the successor to NKVD.

Measured radioactivity in kindergarten

When Schoor measured the radioactivity in the local kindergarten, he was scared by the result and decided to make a video recording of the tests. He took the film to the local TV station, which made a news program and showed the measurements from the kindergarten. That was his crime, since FSB considered it criminal to reveal that the city’s children were playing in radioactivity. At that time Nickolai Schoor was employed in the local environmental committee. He was of course sacked from his job.

“German spy”
The court said he released state secrets, and it was said he was spying for Germany.

“I have no idea why they decided I was spying for Germany, probably just by coincidence,” says Schoor. There was never given any explanation.

The German track was not followed up further. In the final verdict he was convicted for misusing the city’s budget with 7.5 million rubles.

He appealed to the County Court in Chelyabinsk. The Judges there reduced the amount of so-called misused money to 100 rubles, and gave him amnesty due to his half year in custody.

Anti-Soviet activity

Chelyabinsk is one and a half-hour drive from Snezinsk. Immediately after his return to Snezinsk, he was brought in by the FSB again. This time he had been reported by the community of NKVD veterans – for anti-Soviet activity. They said he had spread lies about nuclear weapons. This was in 1995 – four years since the break up of the Soviet Union.

Nickolai Schoor was officially charged for publishing articles about corruption in the local environmental committee. Officially he had been under “city-arrest” since his release from custody in 1995. Therefor Schoor was not allowed to travel to the G7+1 meeting in Moscow, called “Nuclear summit” in April 1996. Schoor was invited by the Bellona Foundation to participate in the alternative summit conference. But the Snezinsk judges wouldn’t let him go there to tell about the radioactive contamination problems around the former nuclear weapons production site in the South-Urals. While Snezinsk is the research centre for nuclear weapons, its twin city Ozersk (former Chelyabinsk-65) was the location for plutonium production.

Pasko and Nikitin

In recent years, Nickolai Schoor has several times been allowed to travel out of Snezinsk. This year he has visited Gregory Pasko and Aleksandr Nikitin, both considered by Schoor as “colleges.”

The trial against Schoor for his published articles about the local environmental situation in the area around Snezinsk started November 30, just a week after the second Nikitin trial started in St. Petersburg.

On the telephone from Snezinsk this week, Schoor could tell that the court failed to make a decision. The verdict, or dismissal of the case, will be announced on December 27th.

Prosecutor son of the judge

One interesting fact from the court hearing in Snezinsk was the role of the judge. This was the same man who acted as assistant to the procurator in Snezinsk the last time Schoor was in court. And it doesn’t stop there; today’s prosecutor is the son of the judge.

Due to the lack of ordinary civilian court system in Snezinsk, a so-called closed territorial court hears the case.

“We should have the same rights as other citizens in Russia. Our court is not fair, but heavily influenced by the FSB,” says Schoor.

Schoor defends himself in court due to the lack of a lawyer in the city who will support him. Attorneys from outside could work on his case, but since Snezinsk is a closed city, outsiders need special permission to get entry. Such permission is very hard to get. Barbed wired fences surround the entire city.

“If I win the trial, that’s good, but ‘they’ have decided to silence me, so I will most probably face some kind of new charges,” says Nickolai Schoor. In the mean time, Schoor works actively in the local green group ‘Fund Ecology’.

FSB’s revenge

Nickolai Schoor has his own theory on why FSB is attacking environmentalists. “In the early days of the new Russia everyone was allowed to tell and write what they wanted. The most secret information in the old Soviet Union was related to radioactive contamination from the military’s activities. Naturally, much of this kind of information was published and FSB didn’t like it because it was a shock for many citizens to see what the old KGB had kept secret for decades,” says Schoor.

“I think what we see today is the KGB successor’s revenge against us.”

Radioactive fish


Recently they discovered that the local environmental committee had lifted a many years long ban on selling fish from a local lake.

“The authorities said there was no dangerous levels of radioactivity in the fish any more. But when our group measured samples of fish, we discovered that the levels of Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 was still three to four times over the maximum permitted level,” says Schoor. The information about the ‘radioactive fish’ made its way through Russian media earlier this year.

“This is just one example why such groups as ours are necessary,” adds Schoor.