How a man’s mind can change

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A commentary by the President of the Bellona Foundation

After the hearings in St Petersburg City Court today, we were all surprised. Defence team leader Schmidt told us that prosecutor Gutsan had declared that criminal charges had been raised against today’s witness Perovsky for his work with the Bellona report on the Northern Fleet, but that Perovsky later had received an amnesty. Not a single sheet of paper concerning this case exists in the files of the Nikitin case, which contain more than five thousand pages. This is a legal scandal, clearly violating the important principle of a fair trial. Nikitin’s defence team should in an early stage have been notified about the existence of the charges against Mr. Perovsky and his later amnesty, as these facts clearly reduces his credibility as a witness against Nikitin. Now prosecutor Gutsan promised to present documentation on what has happened by tomorrow.


However, not even the most fair judge in the world can repair the fear that is created in Mr. Perovsky’s mind since we first met him some years ago and worked together. At that time he was afraid of the nuclear waste in the north. But now he is afraid of something else.


I was very proud of Perovsky when he dared to sit beside me in the panel on the first presentation of the text version of the report during the press-conference at G7 meeting on nuclear security in Moscow.


Later I met Mr. Perovsky in his flat in St Petersburg when Nikitin was isolated in prison. Two events had clearly scared the man. I do not claim that the FSB was behind the break-in at his flat when nothing was stolen, just messed up. Nor do I claim that the FSB was responsible for the attack in a park where he was badly beaten up without any robbery. I just want to state that we all got suspicious and afraid.


Perovsky was sitting in his bed when I handed over the printed version of the report. He immediately put it under his pillow. A little later he grabbed it again and read a few minutes, before the report went back under the pillow again. This happened many times and I really felt pity for him and his position.


I did not know that he had been charged before today. If Bellona had known, we would have supported him and tried in any way to help him. Instead this man has been charged in silence and then received an amnesty also in silence. Today this man was the prosecutor’s witness in the trial against Alexander Nikitin. A man that Perovsky in an interview today says he feels pity for and feel should come out of this situation with minimum loss.


Vyacheslav Perovsky and Alexander Nikitin have suffered in different ways. Nikitin can walk with his head high, but still risks to be convicted of espionage with a minimum penalty of twelve years. Perovsky has lost his integrity and his peace of mind. He has been charged and received an amnesty, after having been considered guilty of a crime, and in his mind he feels that he has at least not done more then a mistake.


The FSB should be ashamed by their actions: A secret indictment, a secret verdict and a witness that has been told what to say. This reminds me of the Soviet times. Today, the Russian legal system must show that this kind of practise will no longer be tolerated.


Now that I also know about the charges and the amnesty, I finally also understand how a man can change his mind so dramatically.

Frederic Hauge

frederic@bellona.no