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Washington Post
November 12, 2001
Injustice in Russia

BUSH ADMINISTRATION officials have been promoting what they see as a dramatic shift by Russian president Vladimir Putin toward cooperation with the West. It's true that Mr. Putin has been quick to join in the campaign against Osama bin Laden, and there are hopes for a groundbreaking U.S.-Russian agreement on a "new strategic framework" governing nuclear weapons and missile defense. But if Mr. Putin's political strategy really has changed, it's not yet apparent to Igor Sutyagin, an academic researcher at the prestigious Institute for the Study of the United States and Canada in Moscow. For two years Mr. Sutyagin has been imprisoned on trumped-up charges of espionage brought by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet KGB. He is one of a number of Russian academics subjected to bogus charges and secret trials since Mr. Putin came to power, in what Russian human rights activists describe as a systematic campaign to instill fear and silence dissent. Even as Mr. Putin courts the West, the campaign continues: Last week his prosecutors asked a court to sentence Mr. Sutyagin to 14 years in prison.

Details about the case of Mr. Sutyagin and others like it are hard to come by because trials are held in secret and coverage by the Russian media -- intimidated by Mr. Putin's campaign against the NTV television network earlier this year -- is scanty. But what is known is that the 37-year-old researcher specialized in military affairs; he prepared reports on subjects such as nuclear weapons and missile defense, using open sources -- mostly reports in the Russian press. Mr. Sutyagin's supervisors and colleagues have testified that he did not have access to classified information, but the FSB claimed that reports he prepared violated a Ministry of Defense decree on secrecy. What were the violations? No one knows: The decree itself is secret, and neither Mr. Sutyagin nor his lawyers have been allowed to read it. The only evidence presented in court has been assertions by the FSB and military officials that Mr. Sutyagin is guilty of violating a rule whose terms he is prohibited from discovering. If it all sounds like a bad parody of Kafka, that's precisely the intention: The FSB wants Russians to know that it has the ability to jail anyone who somehow displeases the authorities, regardless of evidence or the law.

It's hard to see how a government that continues to operate in this way can be a genuine partner of the United States, with aspirations to join the closest circle of U.S. allies in NATO. Mr. Putin probably calculates that the Bush administration doesn't care much about his domestic policies, or even his campaign in Chechnya, as long as he delivers on counterterrorism and missile defense. Administration officials say that's not true -- that they are not willing to drop democracy, press freedom or human rights in Chechnya from the U.S.-Russian agenda. If so, President Bush has a good opportunity to make a point. Mr. Putin is due to arrive in Washington for another summit meeting today, just as Mr. Sutyagin's court case resumes. Mr. Bush should tell Mr. Putin that if he wants to join the company of Western democracies, he must stop his bogus spy trials.

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