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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FSB Charges Nikitin As Spy for 9th Time

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Federal Security Service on Friday charged environmentalist Alexander Nikitin with espionage for the ninth time, though it was unclear how the new charges differed from those rejected by a St. Petersburg court last year.

Alexander Kolb f the latest in the chain of FSB investigators to work on the 45-month, 24-volume case f said he presented the charges to Nikitin on Friday afternoon.

The St. Petersburg city court last fall rejected the previous charges as incomplete and illegally founded, and sent the case back to the FSB for more investigation. Then in February, the Supreme Court refused Nikitin's request to dismiss the charges but agreed the FSB had to build a better case against him.

Kolb said the new set of charges "naturally satisfies the decision of the Supreme Court." He gave no details.

Nikitin, however, said the charges vary little from those brought last year. "The FSB again based the charges on illegitimately applied decrees," he said.

Nikitin, a former navy captain, is accused of divulging state secrets in a report he co-authored with the Norwegian environmental group Bellona about the dangers posed by the Northern Fleet's nuclear legacy.

Nikitin and his supporters say the case was fabricated by the FSB.

"All the information that Nikitin submitted to the Bellona report had been previously published in open sources, and these open sources were presented to the FSB, but they didn't want to look into it," one of the co-authors of the report, Thomas Nilsen, said in a telephone interview from Oslo, Norway.

In an interview earlier this week, Kolb defended the new set of charges as absolutely legal, saying "we always apply everything legally."

Nikitin worked on the report in August and September 1995. The charges, meanwhile, are based on documents that came into force months and even years later f and on two military decrees so secret the FSB refused to show them to Nikitin and the defense until it was forced to do so by the court. It is illegal in Russia to base charges on retroactively applied or secret documents.

Nikitin also says the case against him violates the Constitution, which provides every person with the right to a favorable environment and true information about the state of the environment.

The Bellona report, titled "The Russian Northern Fleet. Sources of Radioactive Contamination," was published to encourage the West to help Russia clean up its nuclear waste. According to statistics provided by Bellona, the potential risk of radioactive contamination by the nuclear weapons that have accumulated on the Kola Peninsula exceeds the contamination in Hiroshima by 5,000 times.

Nilsen said Bellona has since helped Russia draw at least $556 million in U.S. and European funds to diminish the threat of nuclear contamination by the Northern Fleet.

The Bellona report was banned by the FSB immediately after it came out f the first book to be banned in post-Soviet Russia f and Nikitin was thrown into a solitary cell in an FSB prison for 11 months.

While he was in jail, Amnesty International called Nikitin a prisoner of conscience f the first Russian to be so named since dissident and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Andrei Sakharov. The treason charges were eventually dropped.

Since the report was published, Nikitin has received six international awards from environmental and human rights activists.

However, Boris Pustyntsev, chairman of the St. Petersburg-based Citizens' Watch advocacy group, said he was sure the FSB would not drop the charges.

"They need the court to convict Nikitin for at least three days," he said.

"Because if the court acquits him, it will turn out that a group of loafers for almost four years have been wasting taxpayers' money and f as the West spent millions of dollars to clean up the nuclear mess [of the Northern Fleet] f damaging the country's prestige," Pustyntsev said. "And then, it is possible that heads will roll."

Meanwhile, Bellona on Tuesday filed a suit in Nikitin's name against the FSB in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, Nilsen said.