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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Activist Nikitin Says Agents Are Following Him




ST. PETERSBURG -- Environmentalist Alexander Nikitin, facing treason charges since he helped publish a report on the way Russia's navy disposes of nuclear waste, said this week he is being harassed by plainclothes Federal Security Service agents.


Nikitin and his supporters say that efforts by the security service, or FSB, to convict Nikitin have stalled and so agents have this month started using psychological pressure against him -- by attacking his defense lawyer, slashing the tires of his car, putting glue in his car door locks, and making obscene gestures to his wife.


"[The idea is] to tire me out, to make me go nuts, so that I agree with anything they suggest," Nikitin said. "As soon as I stop opposing their stupid accusations, they are going to pass the case on to the court."


Nikitin said Thursday that he had filed formal complaints about the unprecedented week of harassment with Viktor Cherkessov, who heads the FSB in St. Petersburg, and with St. Petersburg police chief Anatoly Ponidelko.


The FSB, the main successor to the KGB, has been after Nikitin for more than two years -- ever since Nikitin, a former captain in the Russian Navy, contributed to an environmentalist group's critique of the way the navy handles the nuclear waste it generates.


Nikitin protests that the report he co-authored for the environmental group Bellona was based solely on public record sources. But the FSB claimed he had disclosed state secrets. Nikitin was arrested in February 1996 and spent nearly a year in jail. He was freed on bail in December 1996.


The FSB filed charges of treason and espionage against him -- and then continued to file those same charges over and over again, on six separate occasions.


Six of those seven charges alleged that Nikitin had violated "secret" Defense Ministry decrees. The decrees have now been deemed so secret that FSB prosecutors said they could not show them to Nikitin or his lawyers -- or even see them themselves.


Nikitin and his supporters believe that this new restriction makes it tougher to convict Nikitin. Therefore, they speculate, the FSB resorted to scare tactics against him.


Nevertheless, FSB officials said Thursday that they were planning to file a seventh set of treason and espionage charges against Nikitin, minus any reference to secret decrees.


Asked about Nikitin's allegations that he is being observed or harassed by FSB agents, Alexander Kolb, the latest in a string of FSB officials to run the Nikitin investigation, was evasive. "Do you think I don't have anything else to do? I have lots of work, why would I organize a surveillance [of Nikitin]? I am already sick of these questions," Kolb said.


But at a news conference this week, Nikitin showed extensive home video footage of cars, complete with the license plates visible, that he said had been following him everywhere.


Nikitin said he first noticed that he was being followed May 1, when he left his home in northeast St. Petersburg to go to a party. Nikitin parked his car for an hour, then returned to find a tire slashed.


On May 2, Nikitin said, two more of his car tires were slashed. On May 3, Nikitin gave a ride home to his defense lawyer Ivan Pavlov and Pavlov's brother. The trio noticed a car tailing them. Pavlov said that after Nikitin dropped them off and he and his brother parted ways, several men attacked him -- throwing him up against a building wall, searching him and demanding to see his documents.


Pavlov said the men did not identify themselves.


He said they took his lawyer's identification card from him, threw it on the ground and left.


During the next few days, Nikitin noticed the same four cars following him all around town. He began to take photographs and video footage of the cars, footage he has shown to journalists.


On May 4, Nikitin's wife, Tatyana Chernova, was followed home by a group of men all wearing sunglasses, black coats and black hats. "I took the bus, and these people drove deliberately by my window and [gave me the finger]," she said.


On Monday, May 6, Nikitin parked his car near his defense lawyer's office. He returned to find glue had been poured into his car-door locks.


"Our neighbors tell us, 'Do you know that you are being followed?'" Chernova said. "Of course we do. Our telephones have been tapped for two years, and [the FSB] come into our apartment every time we leave home."