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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Envoy Backs Nikitin As Bellona Reports Seized

ST. PETERSBURG -- Russian officials seized 1,500 copies of a report on nuclear waste written in part by accused traitor Alexander Nikitin, on the same day that a European Union representative stated that Nikitin is innocent and Russia is risking expulsion from the Council of Europe by holding him.

In yet another development in the Nikitin case, which has been heating up in recent weeks, two Norwegian journalists were denied entry visas to Russia when they expressed a desire to explore the same theme that got Nikitin jailed: the Russian Navy's nuclear waste disposal practices.

Vyacheslav Tkachev of the local human rights group Citizen's Watch said in a telephone interview that the shipment of the report, authored by Nikitin and two others, had been seized Thursday evening at the port of St. Petersburg on grounds that it contained classified information. Customs officers could not be reached for comment.

Last April, the Federal Security Service, or FSB, confiscated 25 draft versions of the report, which was being compiled by the Norwegian environmental organization Bellona.

But in August, Bellona released 5,000 Russian-language copies of their final report in Russia without comment from authorities, who they forewarned and from whom they received special customs clearance.

Also Thursday, Elisabeth Schroetder, an EU special envoy visiting St Petersburg to meet with the prosecution and the defense in Nikitin's case, expressed criticism of the Russian government.

Schroetder called the Nikitin case "politically motivated" after meeting with FSB officials, who arrested Nikitin in February for contributing to the report and only formally charged him about eight months later.

She said the European Parliament is "unanimously convinced of Nikitin's innocence," and would discuss punishing Russia with economic sanctions on Nikitin's behalf when it next convenes in November.

If sanctions fail to secure Nikitin's release then, she added, "We will push for a reconsideration of Russia's membership in the Council of Europe."

Schroetder said she would request an emergency meeting with Leni Fischer, the council's head, who is scheduled to arrive in St. Petersburg on Friday after talks with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow on Thursday.

"The case could have a very negative effect on Russia's standing in the Council of Europe," said Schroetder.

Russia was admitted to the human rights organization despite questions about its rights record.

In another development, two Norwegian radio journalists, Johs Kalvemo and Arne Store, were denied visas to travel to Murmansk on Tuesday.

Last week, four activists from the Norwegian environmental organization Bellona were banned indefinitely from entering St. Petersburg, although they received permission to travel to Moscow and Murmansk, the focus of the disputed Bellona report.

Nikitin, a former navy captain, was in jail for almost eight months before being formally charged with treason and forgery on Sept. 30 for his contributions to a Bellona's report on the Russian Navy's radioactive waste storage policies.

The FSB alleges that Nikitin's contribution to the report came from classified sources. His supporters say he relied solely on public record. No trial date has been set, although defense attorney Yury Schmidt said the case will likely come to trial in December.

"My meeting with Boris Utkin confirmed all my worst fears that the case is political rather than criminal," she said, referring to FSB chief investigator on the case.