Government Should Drop Nikitin Case

Publish date: February 27, 1998

Government Should Drop Nikitin Case

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, has just charged environmentalist Alexander Nikitin with treason. Again. For the sixth time. Just in case they hadn’t already got the point across. "I decided that it is urgent that the previous accusations be amplified," said Alexander Kolb, the latest in a string of FSB officials to run the two-year Nikitin investigation.

The irony is that the case surrounding Nikitin is quite simple.

Nikitin co-wrote a report presenting evidence that the Russian navy is negligent with nuclear waste. He says he assembled the information purely from public record publications. His motives seem pure – certainly personal financial gain was never a consideration.

For his efforts, Nikitin was arrested by the FSB and put in a cell.

Initially, the FSB denied him a lawyer and refused to tell him exactly what he was being held for; indeed, 10 months went by before Nikitin was formally charged. But in keeping with the conspiratorial traditions of the KGB, the charges turned out to be based on "secret laws."

Incredibly, Nikitin has now been charged with treason – in six different ways – for violating laws that have never been published. Only the Defense Ministry, the FSB and a few other authorities know what those laws say. One wonders if the judge in the case will be allowed to see the laws – or perhaps he too will be expected to take the FSB’s word that they have been violated?

Even today, as Nikitin prepares his case, the FSB is refusing to let him see the secret laws he broke.

As this Kafkaesque drama has unfolded, the government has harassed Nikitin’s supporters from the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, denying them visas to St. Petersburg. Last year, the FSB seized thousands of copies of Nikitin’s Bellona report – an utterly pointless gesture, since the report is available on the Internet at

The world community has been outraged by Nikitin’s treatment. During his incarceration he was an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, the first here since Nobel Prize-winner Andrei Sakharov was under house arrest in Gorky; and no doubt most galling of all to the FSB, he won a $75,000 California-based environmental prize last year.

The FSB should have better things to do. Like fight real crime and threats to natural security.

The government has given the FSB until Sunday to either bring the Nikitin case to trial or drop it. But it’s time the government stopped passing the buck and ordered the case dropped, because it is an embarrassment to Russia and an injustice to a good man.