Supreme Court to say final word in Nikitin case?

Publish date: March 28, 2000

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

Aleksandr Nikitin looked relaxed meeting the press in Moscow today. Tomorrow, he either walks out of a four-year limbo, or goes into a new unknown period of spy-charges.

A relaxed and smiling Aleksandr Nikitin walked down the sunny street of Novy Arbat on his way to the press conference in downtown Moscow this afternoon. At the National Press Institute some 30 journalists were waiting to hear his thoughts about the possible outcome of tomorrow’s important hearing in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will decide on whether the ‘not-guilty’ verdict from the City Court of St. Petersburg will be the final words, or if the appeal from the Procurator is to be accepted. Procurator Aleksandr Gutsan delivered his appeal shortly after Nikitin was acquitted from all charges on December 29 last year.

Tomorrow morning, exactly three months after Nikitin walked out of the City Court in St. Petersburg, the judges in Moscow are to make Russian legal history. If they confirm the verdict from December 29, it means no sub-legal law can override the Constitution. The Procurator appealed because Sergey Golets, the city judge in St. Petersburg who heard the Nikitin case for five weeks in November and December, based his ruling on the Russian Constitution, which says no secret sub-legal acts, norms or laws can be used against a citizen. Nikitin was charged for violating such secret laws, in his case even made retroactive. If the Supreme Court accepts the appeal from the Procurator, this will also make Russian legal history, in this scenario with scary consequences because it will open the doors for organs like the FSB to determine what the law is, independent of the country’s Constitution.


The journalists and international observers present at the press conference today said tomorrows Supreme Court hearing on the Nikitin case will be the first signal on how newly elected president Vladimir Putin will rule his empire in the years to come. Putin stated in the media just after Sunday’s election that he is going to rule the country by law. Which laws he has in mind will be known tomorrow.

Aleksandr Nikitin’s chief defender Yury Schmidt put it this way: ‘Putin knows perfectly well about the Nikitin case. We have got no signs about him interfering in tomorrow’s decision. The Nikitin case is a test for democracy in Russia. If the Supreme Court changes the verdict of the St. Petersburg City Court, it means that the authorities have interfered,’ Schmidt says. Putin is a former FSB chief, and many of his former KGB colleges are now holding key positions in Moscow.

The FSB hopes the Supreme Court will accept the appeal. The chief investigator in the Nikitin case, Aleksandr Kolb is the only FSB official who has commented on the appeal in the media. In an interview with the St. Petersburg local TV he expressed his hope the Supreme Court will correct the mistakes of the City Court.

Frederic Hauge, President of the Bellona Foundation, said at the press conference that he hopes for the best, but fears the worst. Supported by legal advisor Jon Gauslaa, both Bellona representatives said the only option for tomorrow is a final end to the Nikitin case. This is because the City Court’s verdict is based on the Constitution and if the Supreme Court overrules this decision, Russia is no longer a country ruled by law. Frederic Hauge also underlined that the harassment of environmentalists in Russia may not be over because of a positive outcome of the Nikitin case. ‘Since the acquittal of Nikitin last December, many other green groups in Russia have faced the trouble makers from the FSB,’ Hauge said.

Several Human Rights organisations are also observing how the Supreme Court will handle the Nikitin case. ‘We appeal to the Supreme Court to confirm the verdict of St. Petersburg, and thereby showing Russian citizens, as well as the whole world following this case, that Russia is becoming a country living up to its international commitments, and becoming a country ruled by law,’ says Ragnhild Astrup Tschudi of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.

The Supreme Court hearing is starting at 10 o’clock Moscow Time, in court room no. 5, at Ilinka street no. 7, just a few metres from the Red Square. It is not known yet if the court will go behind closed doors, or if the public will be let in. But, according to the law, the doors must be open when the Supreme Court judge reads the decision. The names of the judges are not know, nor is it clear who will represent the Procurator’s office. It can be the St. Petersburg Procurator Aleksandr Gutsan, who had the case since the very beginning in 1996, or a representative from the General Procurator’s Office in Moscow.