U.S. Congress Members, Russian Ambassador Meet Over Nikitin Case

Publish date: October 10, 1998

Written by: Thomas Jandl

Ten Members of the U.S. House of Representatives met with the Russian Ambassador to Washington, Yuliy Vorontsov, on Capitol Hill on Friday, October 9, to voice their concern about the upcoming Nikitin trial. The meeting was initiated by Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colo.), the leading Nikitin supporter in Congress.

The 10 parliamentarians voiced their concern about the fairness of the Nikitin trial, scheduled for October 20-23. The issue of most concern was the retroactive application of decrees in the case. "The most troubling aspect of this case is the retroactive application of criminal law provisions that didn’t even exist at the time Nikitin committed the act he is charged with," Skaggs told Vorontsov.

Nikitin is charged with espionage and divulging of state secrets for co-authoring a report on the dangers of nuclear waste in Russia’s northwest. The report is heavily footnoted and all information has been drawn from public sources. This year, a group of three Russian admirals declared in a report that no state secrets can be found in Nikitin’s writings.

Skaggs announced he would go to Russia to observe the trial if early indicators showed that the proceedings were not in accordance with international legal standards and his presence would send a positive signal.

Skaggs, who described the meeting with Vorontsov as "frank and cordial," said that the Nikitin case is "a real test of the Russian government’s commitment to the rule of law and the independence of its courts." He also pointed to the "serious implications" of the fairness of the trial for U.S.-Russian relations. Skaggs emphasized the need for legal security for trade and U.S. investment in Russia.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who sits on the International Relations Committee that approves aid to Russia, pointed out that it is difficult to explain to the many poor voters in his district that U.S. money is well spent in Russia, especially with stories such as Nikitin’s in the news.

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), who is active in nuclear waste management projects between Russian and the United States, also attended the meeting.

The other House Members attending the meeting are Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), Carrie Meek (D-Fla.), Michael Oxley (R-Ohio), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and Karen Thurman (D-Fla.).