U.S. Congressman takes Russian colleagues to task over Nikitin

Publish date: September 7, 1998

Written by: Thomas Jandl

U.S. Rep. David Skaggs called a special meeting with U.S. and Russian colleagues at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) to plead the case of environmentalist and Bellona employee Aleksandr Nikitin. Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky defied Skaggs, while the Speaker of the Duma, Communist Gennady Seleznev promised his staff would look into the matter.

Congressman David Skaggs, a Colorado Democrat, called a special meetingduring the ongoing CSCE meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 8 topress the Russian delegates on the fate of Russian environmentalistAleksandr Nikitin.

Almost the entire 17-member U.S. delegation attended an hour-longmeeting with their Russian Duma counterparts. The meeting was part ofSkaggs’ ongoing campaign to shore up support for Nikitin in the U.S.Congress.

At the meeting, Skaggs raised the issues of human rights and rule oflaw. While nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky downplayed theimportance of the case, the Speaker of the Russian Duma, GennadySeleznev, promised he would order his staff to look into the matter.

Skaggs was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. “It’s not unexpectedthat the Russians would be reluctant to acknowledge immediately theproblems in the prosecution of Captain Nikitin, but it’s somewhatencouraging that the Speaker of the Russian Duma agreed to have theappropriate staff look into the matter.”

The meeting showed a significant number of Russian lawmakers thecontinued U.S. interest in the two-and-half year old case. It is alsolikely to have increased awareness of the importance of the issue amongthe U.S. delegates, some of whom have not previously followed the caseclosely.

Another delegate, Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, had raisedthe case with former Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin duringhis last visit to the United States.

At present, a number of large civic organizations are pressing VicePresident Al Gore to follow the congressional lead and raise the issuepublicly and forcefully with new Prime Minister Sergey Kiriyenko duringthe first meeting of the new Gore/Kiriyenko Commission in late July.Letters to that avail were sent to Gore by the New York Academy ofSciences, the American Chemical Society, the Committee of Concerned Scientists, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and other NGOs andcivic organizations, representing more than half a million Americans.

A drive for support from the U.S. Bar Association, the largestorganization of lawyers, is under way, following the harassment ofNikitin’s lawyer by secret police.

Skaggs has circulated three “Dear Colleague” letters in the House ofRepresentatives, signed by more than 30 U.S. Representatives of bothparties. And he is not done yet: “I will continue to press thisvigorously, as will other members of Congress.”