Enemies of the state

Publish date: October 25, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Russian Security Police says it fights terrorists but targets specifically environmentalists.

The Russian Security Police, or FSB, is stepping up the security to protect Russia from what it calls Chechen terrorists, but in the Russia-wide antiterrorist campaign environmental activists seem to be a specific target.

Vladimir Slivyak, the head of the antinuclear campaign in the Russian prominent environmental organisation Socio-Ecological Union, revealed at a press conference last week that he himself was threatened by the FSB officers in September after the first blast shook a shopping centre in the heart of Moscow. Another activist was put into custody and charged for possession of drugs – a case that lawyers call a trivial set up. Others were questioned by the FSB accompanied with ransacking of their apartments, in relation to actions of protest against nuclear power plants.

On September 6, Vladimir Slivyak was detained near his apartment by men, who would not identify themselves properly, and dragged into their car. The men, FSB’s operatives as revealed later, said they wanted to talk about the explosion at the Moscow shopping centre but asked questions only regarding Slivyak’s environmental work. The FSB officer, who was interrogating him, produced a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes packed with joints and told Slivyak that this pack would be found in his bag, should he be reluctant to answer all questions asked. The same day, Yakov Kochkarev, who worked together with Slivyak, was arrested and put into custody on the charges of drug possession – he "possessed" the very same Chesterfield pack of cigarettes Slivyak had been threatened with. Kochkarev’s lawyers are confident that the drugs were planted. The trial is to start shortly, while Kochkarev is still in custody.

All over Russia
On September 7, another antinuclear activist, Aleksey Kozlov, in the city of Voronezh that neighbours with Novovoronezh power plant, was called into the local FSB and questioned about the Socio-Ecological Union protest camp, settled in mid August two kilometres from the plant. The FSB officer was particular interested in the funding sources for antinuclear campaigns. Around the same time, apartments of activists from a local environmental group were ransacked by the FSB in Yekaterinburg. The group was working on the safety questions of Beloyarsk nuclear power plant located not far from the city.

An "annoying factor"
Slivyak believes that the Russian Security Police has been keeping an eye on environmentalists for a long time and now is taking the advantage of the current tense situation in Russia to deal with this "annoying factor." His words are backed up by the cases of Aleksandr Nikitin and Grigory Pasko, both naval captains charged with high treason by the FSB for revealing information on radiation dangers at the Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet.

Russian human right activists say this whole chain of events is an alarming tendency in the Russian society when NGOs, in particularly environmental NGOs, are pictured by the FSB through controlled media as either residents of foreign intelligence services or groups of extremists capable of committing terror acts.