Secret services' new fit of spymania - a diagnosis of society

posted 26 Apr 2015, 12:23 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Apr 2015, 12:32 ]
23 April 2015

Vera Vasilieva  

On the night of 21st - 22nd April 2015 a court in the town of Sarov in Nizhny Novgorod region released 66 year old nuclear physicist Vladimir Golubev, accused of divulging state secrets (Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code) from pre-trial detention on a signed undertaking not to leave the town.

The reason for the prosecution has been posted on the website of Open Russia, founded by the ex-head of YUKOS Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In the video the scientist explains the essence of the charges brought against him.

Judging by the published information, the criminal case against Vladimir Golubev has been tailored by Russian intelligence agencies according to a well tried and tested pattern. A former scientific colleague from the Russian Nuclear Centre (All-Russia Research Institute for Experimental Physics) is accused of having published in a Czech journal in 2013 a report about explosive materials, in which he divulged information allegedly containing a state secret. The publication in the journal appeared after the speech by Golubev at a scientific conference.

But according to the scientist himself, these explosive materials he was talking about have long ceased to be secret. The arguments set out by him were already published in scientific literature in the 1980s and 1990s.

“This is a fresh case with a bad smell. In general, the intelligence structures have two methods of putting pressure on scientists today – accusing them of fraud or of espionage,” Yury Ryzhov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and member of the Public Committee for the Protection of Scientists, said in a media interview.

In reality, what has happened with Vladimir Golubev is identical to the prosecution of other Russian scientists. For example, that of former employee of the Institute of the USA and Canada, Igor Sutyagin, convicted of gathering information about the military potential of Russia from openly available sources and passing them on to foreign governments. As lawyers and human rights activists repeatedly stated, in the actions of Igor Sutyagin there was no basis for conviction. Subsequently Amnesty International recognised him as a prisoner of conscience. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia had violated Sutyagin’s right to a fair trial, as set out in Article 6 of the European Convention for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The second means of putting pressure on scientists, Yury Ryzhov pointed out, is clearly being currently used in the case of the nuclear physicist from Obninsk, doctor of technical sciences and director of the A.I. Leipunsky Institute of Physics and Power Engineering, Sergei Kalyakin. He is being tried in the capital’s Zamoskvoretsky district court on a charge of fraud (Article 159 of the Russian Criminal Code). And similarly, in this case there was not only a complete lack of any material evidence, but even of the kind of mandatory evidence on which cases of economic crimes are based. Kalyakin categorically denies his guilt. This being the case, the 52-year-old scientist, unable to boast of good health, has already served more than a year in pre-trial detention, although by law, he should not be doing so.

A week ago we heard the tragic news from the Dmitrovgrad penal colony in Ulyanovsk region that scientist and political prisoner Evgeny Afanasiev, serving a twelve-and-a-half year sentence for treason, had died of a heart attack. His lawyer Ivan Pavlov (the same lawyer who secured first the release of Svetlana Davydova, mother of a large family, and subsequently the dropping of all charges against her) suggested that this case has been essential for the intelligence services, even if only for the purpose of ‘ticking the box’ with regard to solving crimes of this type.

In his 62nd year, the scientist Evgeny Afanasiev could find himself at the peak of his scientific career, with his intellectual potential serving the good of the nation. But he has become a victim of spymania and arbitrary rule. His ‘partner in crime’, Svyatoslav Bobyshev, remains behind bars.

So what can be said now of attempts to halt a ‘brain drain’?

I believe it is already obvious that the new revised version of Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code, adopted in 2012 and the broad interpretation of state treason it contains, has become the instrument for fabricating ‘spy’ cases.

For me this is associated with a problem which at first glance is from quite another realm: the indiscriminate inclusion of human rights organisations in the list of “foreign agents.”

In fact I think the roots are the same: the aggressive distaste of the Russian authorities (and corresponding propaganda in the mass media) for the outside world, fear, chauvinism, the constant search for ‘enemies,’ ‘spies,’ ‘foreign agents’, on whose intrigues our own internal problems can be blamed. Instead of creative ideas and positive values, they are producing negative ones.

No less destructive than artificially-cultivated hatred, in my opinion, is the indifference exhibited by a significant part of the Russian public: an ‘I don’t care’ attitude.

If the death of Eevgeny Afansiev had been the news of the day, if the ‘espionage’ cases fabricated against scientists featured in objective television reports, and a focus for public attention, then they would collapse during the preliminary investigation, just as happened in the case of Svetlana Davydova.

Until the situation changes, evidently we should expect to learn of new criminal cases with the familiar ‘bad smell.’

Translated by Frances Robson