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Spy Trials Against Russian Scholars
January 30, 2003

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian security services are damaging the country's scientific potential with a series of high-profile spy cases against Russian researchers, scientists and human rights advocates said Thursday.

``We're returning to a time when science was considered a dangerous profession,'' said Valentin Danilov, a Russian scientist accused of selling state secrets to a Chinese company.

Danilov's case is one of several recent espionage trials against Russian researchers that have alarmed the scientific community and raised fears about a resurgence of Soviet-era KGB tactics.

Human rights advocates say the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the KGB, remains suspicious of scientific contacts with foreigners and has grown bolder in its prosecution of scholars under President Vladimir Putin, himself a former spy who headed the FSB from 1998-99.

``There has been no reform at all in the FSB,'' Lyudmila Alexeyeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a respected human rights group, said at a news conference. ``The same people are working there with the same mentality.''

Danilov's legal troubles are a case in point, activists said.

A professor at Krasnoyarsk Technical University in Siberia, Danilov was arrested in February 2001 on charges of selling secret space technology to China and spent 19 months in prison before a judge released him pending trial last September. In December, a court sent the case back to prosecutors, citing procedural violations.

Prosecutors, who also accuse Danilov of misappropriating university funds, have appealed the December decision to the Russian Supreme Court. A ruling is expected Feb. 5.

Danilov and several other researchers accused of espionage insist the information they transferred is no longer classified and came from open sources, including published scientific journals.

``For the FSB, it's not important whether a crime was committed,'' said Anna Stavitskaya, a lawyer representing Igor Sutyagin, a scholar at Moscow's USA and Canada Institute arrested for passing secrets to the United States. ``If they have a person, they'll find a charge.''

Sutyagin has been in detention for more than three years, and is awaiting trial for passing secret military data to a British company allegedly set up as a cover for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. He denies the charges.

Scientists said the FSB crackdown on suspect contacts with foreigners has sparked fear among young Russian researchers and discouraged them from working at state universities and institutes.

It also has sped up the ``brain drain'' of scientific talent from Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as scholars seek better paying jobs in the West, they said.

``This FSB practice of pursuing scholars is anti-government,'' said Vitaly Ginzburg, a member of the Russian Academy of Science's Public Committee for Protection of Scholars. ``It's the best way to make people flee the country.''

Many activists saw a glimmer of hope in recent comments by Putin, who criticized what he called ``obsessive spy mania'' in the country and ``excessive bureaucratization'' in protecting national security.

Alexeyeva said it would take more time for the Russian government to get over its suspicion of scientific exchanges of information.

``Every closed society suffers from spy mania,'' she said. ``Russia has only been an open society for the last 10 years - for the first time in its all its history.''

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