The recent conviction of researcher Igor Sutyagin on espionage charges is only the latest in a spate of similar cases in Putin’s Russia involving researchers, journalists, diplomats, and former security agents accused of having improper contacts with foreigners.
An unidentified spokesman for a Russian secret service told Interfax on 9 April that Western intelligence agencies — particularly those of the United States — have stepped up their work against Russia. “Among all the special services involved in intelligence activity against Russia over the last five years, the most active has been U.S. intelligence,” the source said.
The statement was made in connection with the recent conviction on espionage charges of researcher Igor Sutyagin, who was sentenced on 7 April to 15 years’ imprisonment for spying for the United States.
Sutyagin, a former researcher with the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada, was arrested by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents in Kaluga on 27 October 1999. He was accused of passing state secrets to a British consulting firm that the FSB charges was a front organization for U.S. intelligence. Throughout his ordeal, Sutyagin has maintained his innocence, saying that he never had access to secret information and that all the information he provided was culled from open sources.
The role of the security organs, police, and intelligence services in the domestic and international affairs of Putin’s Russia has become so pronounced that journalists have been obliged to invent the euphemism “siloviki” to avoid constantly enumerating the security agencies involved.
On 9 April, the new political movement Committee 2008, which was formed recently by a group of liberal politicians and journalists, released a statement calling the Sutyagin verdict “unjust and biased because the trial failed to establish that secrets were indeed passed or that the foreign citizens with whom Sutyagin was linked worked for foreign intelligence services,” polit.ru reported.
The same day, Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada Director Sergei Rogov described the Sutyagin sentence as “overly severe,” adding that he hopes the Supreme Court will “revise it,” lenta.ru reported. “I am displeased that the institute has been depicted in the mass media as a nest of the CIA,” Rogov said, “and by the fact that we have drawn the attention of the intelligence services. But how can one judge the level of the interest of the secret services [to the institute]? I cannot say that that interest has increased in recent years.”
The Sutyagin trial is just one of a spate of similar cases involving researchers, journalists, diplomats, and former security agents accused of having improper contacts with foreigners. Here are some of the major cases from recent years.
1996: Navy Captain Aleksandr Nikitin was arrested and accused of divulging state secrets in a report he prepared for the Norwegian ecological organization Bellona on the radioactive contamination of the Barents Sea by the Northern Fleet. The St. Petersburg Municipal Court acquitted him in December 1999.
1997: Military journalist and Navy Captain Grigorii Pasko and charged with giving state secrets to Japanese journalists. In December 2001, he was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. He was granted early release from prison in January 2003.
1998: Senior diplomat Valentin Moiseev was arrested and charged with spying for South Korea. In 1999, a Moscow court convicted him and sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment. That sentence was later reduced to 4 1/2 years.
1999: Pacific Ocean Studies Institute Professor Vladimir Shchurov was arrested in Vladivostok and accused of disclosing state secrets to China. In August 2003, he was convicted and sentenced to two years probation. He was immediately released under an amnesty.
1999: Businessman Viktor Kalyadin was arrested and accused of spying for the United States. He was convicted and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment in October 2001.
2000: The Baltic Fleet Military Court sentenced Navy Captain Sergei Velichko to five years’ imprisonment after convicting him of spying for Sweden. Velichko reportedly confessed that he had worked for Swedish intelligence since 1996.
2000: Retired U.S. Naval Intelligence officer Edmund Pope was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment by a Moscow court for spying for the United States. He was pardoned by President Vladimir Putin and sent back to the United States.
2000: Bauman Moscow State Technical University Professor Anatolii Babkin was arrested in August 2000 together with Edmund Pope on charges of spying for the United States. In February 2003 he was convicted and given eight years’ probation.
2001: Krasnoyarsk Technological Institute physicist Valentin Danilov was arrested and accused of spying for China. He was acquitted by a jury in December 2003.
2003: Former FSB officer and lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin is arrested and accused of revealing state secrets. His case is now before the Moscow Military District Court.
“Nezavisimaya gazeta” on 7 April published a primer of 16 such cases.
Some analysts believe that Sutyagin was unlucky in that he was arrested in 1999, when Putin was FSB director. FSB officers now are taking particular pains to show that cases developed during that period were sound. However, there can be little doubt that the escalating phenomenon of “spymania” is a result of the renaissance that the former KGB apparatus has undergone since Putin came to power in 2000.
Domestic and foreign observers alike have lost count of the number of former KGB, FSB, military intelligence (GRU), and Foreign Intelligence Service (GRU) officers who have been given senior positions within the presidential administration, the government, and regional administrations. In addition, many have become regional governors or have been elected to national and local legislatures. And many of these figures do not conceal their desire to revenge the disorientation and humiliation they experienced during the reform era of the 1990s.
The role of the security organs, police, and intelligence services in the domestic and international affairs of President Putin’s Russia has become so pronounced that journalists have been obliged to invent the euphemism “siloviki” in order to avoid constantly enumerating the security agencies involved. Moreover, the visible role played by security veterans in public life must not be allowed to obscure that fact that a much larger number of people who owe their political careers to their covert collaboration with the Soviet-era security organs are very likely occupying many crucial positions in Russia today.
Titles glorifying various KGB operations can increasingly be found on the shelves of Russian-language bookstores.
Their names are unknown — and will likely never be known — because Russia has never adopted a lustration law that would have purged the state apparatus of secret-police collaborators. In fact, such a law has never been seriously discussed in Russia. The only person who tried, unsuccessfully, to get a lustration bill through the Duma was Democratic Russia leader Galina Starovoitova, who was assassinated in St. Petersburg in November 1998. The men accused of carrying out that killing are now on trial in St. Petersburg, although the case so far has revealed little about the motivation or the organizers of the crime.
The enhanced role of former KGB and other secret-service veterans in Russia has given impetus to a real process of cultural counterrevolution in Russian society, one that is reacting against the liberal values of the 1990s reforms and is seeking a return to Soviet traditions and norms.
It is impossible to go into any Russian-language bookstore anywhere in the world without noticing the dozens of recent titles glorifying various KGB operations. In addition, all the national television stations in Russia are heavily running Soviet movies, many of which are devoted to the glorious struggle of the KGB against Western “imperialist” intelligence agencies. Newer programs frequently glorify the exploits of Russian special-forces troops fighting in Chechnya. All of these phenomena are melding together into the emergent ideology of national revanche, and it is not surprising that in such an atmosphere a jury found Sutyagin guilty and also ruled that did “not deserve leniency.”
Supporters of Putin often argue that it is natural that he, a former intelligence officer, would rely on his colleagues just as a president with a business background might be expected to bring private-sector representatives into his administration. But whatever the motive, the result is that spymania and other attributes of the secret-service mentality will continue to be prominent elements of Russian public life, and domestic policy will continue to be transformed into little more than a series of special operations.