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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Official: Only Trial Can Clear Nikitin

Despite hints that the government is willing to allow environmental activist Alexander Nikitin to leave the country, a Foreign Ministry spokesman Tuesday refused to say whether Russia would drop treason charges against him.

After a meeting Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin offered some hope that Russia was prepared to allow Nikitin to leave.

"When the investigation is over, we will not hold him," he said.

But commenting Tuesday on the prime minister's remarks, Gennady Tarasov, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, would not say whether this meant that the charges against Nikitin would be dropped or that he was being told to leave the country with a sentence still hanging over him.

"Our position is that since this matter has gone through legal channels, it should be decided through the legal organizations," the spokesman said.

Nikitin has said publicly that he does not want to leave Russia until his name has been cleared but Tarasov hinted that the Russian prosecutor would not drop charges without going to court.

"In terms of clearing his name ... that is something only a court of law can decide," Tarasov said.

Nikitin was arrested in February 1996 and held for eight months for his work on a report, published by Bellona, a Norwegian environmental group, on pollution caused by Russian nuclear submarines in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean.

He was eventually charged with espionage and treason and although now out of jail, he has been ordered not to leave St. Petersburg pending trial.

Contacted by phone in St. Petersburg Nikitin said he had not been told whether the prosecutor general would drop its case. He said that documents in his case had been presented to legal authorities for "familiarization" last month, but no court date has yet been set.

But Nikitin said the case may not go to trial. He said it is possible that the Prosecutor General's Office may drop charges after examining documents from the investigation.

"My lawyers are sure that, if we're able to meet with the prosecutor general, there is enough material that demonstrates there was no crime committed."

Nikitin said officials from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and the St. Petersburg lower court, where he is to be tried, have refused to examine this material. Nikitin said that if his case does go to trial, he has requested that it be heard by the Supreme Court.

Chretien has offered to allow Nikitin to emigrate to Canada at any moment. Nikitin said his application to emigrate to Canada may have accelerated the FSB's decision to take action against him.

He visited the Canadian Embassy on Feb. 5, 1996 and was offered an entry visa. The next day, Feb. 6, 1996, "the FSB came, took my passport away, and the investigation began," he said.

Even if charges against him are dropped, Nikitin said he is not sure that he would emigrate to Canada. "There have been changes" in his life, he said. "I would have to look at the concrete situation."