26.09.2006 | Vladimir Baburin

“To shoot conditionally”


A third picket has been held against the persecution of Russian scientists, this time on Pushkin Square  where once dissidents demanded that the Soviet authorities complied with their own laws.

In the process of building a “sovereign democracy”, the security service has launched an unprecedented campaign against Russian scientists, accusing them of passing on “top secret information” to foreign intelligence services. The said information has, admittedly, long been described in university textbooks.

The scientists Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov have both received long sentences.

And one can still not turn the page on the supposedly concluded espionage trials.  In all such trials, with the exception of that of environmentalist and officer Alexander Nikitin who was acquitted, the judiciary leave a lot dangling.

Grigory Pasko was given early conditional release while Valentin Moiseev was long under a written undertaking not to abscond and was, as they called it in Tsarist Russia, under police surveillance.

The authorities try to get all these people to confess to spying, promising, in return, as one gathers from the scanty information of lawyers, a sentence lower than the smallest possible.  This was the case with Professor Babkin.

This would seem to be something entirely new in jurisprudence which would be very hard to explain logically. How otherwise, if the accused spied enough to get a sentence of 12 to 20 years for the crime, of which he is accused by the court and which is substantiated by prosecutor, but actually gets four years like Pasko, or eight, but conditionally, like Babkin, or the conditional six years plus a fine of 100 thousand dollars, like Kaybyshev?

In the Soviet Union state treason and espionage were considered the most serious crimes, even murderers still had a chance of getting a 15-year labour camp sentence, but the death penalty was guaranteed for  a spy or traitor. One wonders whether, had Russia not declared a moratorium on the death penalty, spies in Vladimir Putin’s time might be receiving a conditional death sentence for say 15 years.

Of course that’s absurd, but no less so than the accusations against the scientists. I happened to meet Professor Babkin, and he told me seemingly with genuine bemusement that he was charged with having passed secret information on to the American Edmond Pope.

The fact that Professor Babkin does not speak English, and Pope does not understand Russian did not for some reason interest the investigators or the prosecution.

There is another, less known case: Russian visas were not extended to volunteers of the Peace Corps, since the security service decided that the volunteers were engaged in activities incompatible with their status, and suspected them of espionage.

Bulgakov’s hero complained about foreigners: “Either they spy like a real son of a bitch, or they drive you crazy with their whims”. Representatives of the Ministry of Education also complained against the volunteers of the Peace Corps receiving negative feedback from the regions. I quote a Ministry official Nikolai Dmitriev: “Representatives of the Peace Corps, who taught English to high school students had no teaching experience, did not know Russian well, and sometimes did not know it at all”. So, it would appear that the volunteers were thrown out of Russia both for spying and for their poor knowledge of the language of the host country.

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