#4 - JRL 7010
January 9, 2003
Russia Turns Away U.S. Labor Activist
By Natalia Yefimova
A prominent American labor activist who has lived and worked in Russia since 1989 has been deported from the country, in the latest case of diplomatic pressure on foreigners in the nonprofit sector here.
Irene Stevenson, the executive director of the American Center for Labor Solidarity and the Russia representative of the AFL-CIO, a major U.S. umbrella group for trade unions, arrived in Moscow from Paris on Dec. 30. At passport control at Sheremetyevo Airport, border officials refused Stevenson entry, confiscated her visa and put her on the next plane back to Paris, the Pravda.ru web site reported this week.
As of Wednesday, the reasons for the deportation were not clear.
Stevenson's ouster is at least the third case in less than a month of federal authorities squeezing out representatives of Western nonprofit groups.
In late December, the U.S. Embassy said Russia will no longer accept Peace Corps volunteers. The decision came some four months after Moscow refused to extend the visas of 30 of the 64 Peace Corps volunteers who were halfway through their two-year stints.
The Foreign Ministry has said that Russia has outgrown the need for such volunteers. Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev, however, said last month that the volunteers had raised security concerns by collecting information about the political and socioeconomic situation in Russia's regions.
Patrushev said one of the volunteers was a former CIA agent and was establishing contacts with local authorities and major defense enterprises in Samara, RIA Novosti said.
At the start of this month, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which played an important role as peace broker in the 1994-96 Chechnya war, began phasing out its mission in the rebel republic after the Russian government slashed its mandate there.
Stevenson's work in Russia over the past decade has focused on providing consultations and legal aid in labor disputes and training for union organizers.
Most recently, her organization was involved in supporting last month's air traffic controllers' strike.
Three weeks ago, the Izvestia newspaper featured a front-page portrait of Stevenson along with a question-and-answer interview about her 14 years in Russia. The interview contained nothing obvious that might have ruffled the government's feathers, barring a reference to continuing wage arrears -- a sore point ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.
Sten Petersen, a senior specialist with the International Labor Organization's Moscow office, said he saw no obvious reasons for Stevenson's deportation.
"The Solidarity center is very grassroots-oriented and hasn't figured in any major front-page [business] conflicts that I know of," Petersen said by telephone Wednesday. "They have done a very good job assisting unions and protecting workers' rights."
A spokesman for the Federal Border Service declined to comment on any details of the case, but said that "if a foreign citizen is denied entry at the border ... it is based on Article 27 of the law on entering and leaving Russia," which allows the country to turn away anyone it considers to be a potential security threat.