The date of the trial is set. The first session will start at 10:30 on October 20 in St. Petersburg City Court. Today, Aleksandr Nikitin and his defence team held a press conference to inform some 50 journalists assembled in an overcrowded room about the latest developments in the case.
The indictment still contains charges of high treason and divulging of state secrets based on the information published in Bellona’s Northern Fleet report. However, Aleksandr Nikitin has some optimism left:
"I feel much more confident now when the case has reached the court," says Aleksandr Nikitin to Bellona Web. "During the investigation, I feared that the FSB would go further in it falsification of the case. Now it’s over. The indictment I received contains nothing. 80% of it is FSB lyrics, completely irrelevant to the case."
Despite orders given by the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation that the charges should not be based on secret and retroactive decrees, those decrees are still the basis for the indictment. In fact, the indictment has almost twenty direct references to the decrees, shown neither to Nikitin nor to his defence team. The judge, appointed to preside over the case, plans to request them at the outset of the trial. However, lawyer Yury Schmidt believes that the Ministry of Defence will refuse to hand the decrees over to the judge, despite the fact that a judge supposedly has ‘full power.’
The composition of the court will include one qualified judge and two jurors. The latter two must obtain a security clearance from the FSB. Unlike the situation in the U.S., for instance, Russian law does not grant an accused or his counsel any veto regarding the selection of jurors. To the contrary; in this case the identity of the jurors is kept secret.
"The two jurors appear to be ‘dark horses’ which will reveal themselves on the day of trial. This is not acceptable from the point of international principles for a fair trial," says Yury Schmidt.
According to the Russian law, court sessions dealing with state secrets are closed to the public. However, the judge has promised verbally to the defence team that parts of the hearings will be open. The decision inthis matter falls under the judge’s authority.
In the meantime, Victor Cherkesov, former FSB director in St. Petersburg and the person originally behind this witch-hunt, was recently promoted to vice-director of the FSB in Moscow. Yury Schmidt fears that this man will do everything in his power to put whatever pressure on the court he can. Cherkesov headed a KGB department responsible for political reprisals in St. Petersburg in Soviet times.
There is a bright light, though. Nikitin’s defender Yury Schmidt believes the new Russian government, composed of hard-liners, will not influence the case. "They have too many things to worry about these days," says Schmidt.
Aleksandr Nikitin is charged with espionage and disclosure of state secrets while working for the Bellona Foundation. He was arrested by the FSB on February 6, 1996, after writing two chapters for a Bellona report on the risks of radioactive pollution from Russia’s Northern Fleet. He was held in pre-trial detention until December 14, 1996, and has been officially restricted to the city limits of St. Petersburg since his release from custody.