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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nikitin and Pasko Meet for a Drink




It took years in prison and charges of espionage to bring the two men together, but on Thursday, over a ripe melon and a round of vodka, Alexander Nikitin and Grigory Pasko - Russia's environmental "spies" - finally met.


Sitting in the Moscow office's of the Glasnost Defense Fund, Nikitin waited expectantly for his comrade in arms to appear. The two men had never seen each other before, but when Pasko walked into the room they greeted each other with a warm embrace.


They may be separated by a continent, but the two men have a great deal bringing them together.


Both served as navy officers.


Both exposed the environmental hazards of the military's nuclear waste disposal.


Both incurred the wrath of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and paid for their activities by facing treason charges and several months in prison.


"A historic meeting of 'spies,'" said Alexei Simonov, director of Glasnost, one of the human-rights groups to support the two men.


"Today, I propose a toast to freedom - something that is understood best by those who have lost it," said Simonov, gesturing to Nikitin and Pasko, who sat side by side. "They are free today. Let us drink to that."


Technically, only one of them is free. Pasko, a military journalist from Vladivostok who wrote about the Pacific Fleet's practice of dumping nuclear waste, was acquitted of espionage charges in July after spending 20 months in jail.


Nikitin, whose case has been dragging on for four years, still awaits trial. But the looming court date did not cloud Thursday's festivities, during which spy jokes abounded.


Nikitin even presented Pasko with a copy of his report on Russia's Northern Fleet - the environmental study he co-authored for the Norwegian environmental group Bellona that landed him in jail.


According to the Constitution, it is unlawful to classify any information concerning the environment. But the FSB has turned a blind eye to this argument and has waged its own war against environmental whistle blowers.


"We have to finish up both of these affairs in victory," said Yury Schmidt, Nikitin's outspoken lawyer. "Full victory. Any other kind is not worth having."


While Pasko still technically serves in the military, he is using his vacation time to clear up a few legal matters in Moscow.


Specifically, he wants to clear the way for running for a seat in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.


If he is elected in the upcoming parliamentary race, Pasko says he will use his position to promote his environmental platform as well as legal reform - particularly those issues dealing with the law on state secrets, with which he became intimately acquainted during his 20 months in prison.


"I will try to do something about this as a deputy," Pasko said.


"He already tried to do something about it [as a citizen]," Nikitin added. "And the result is well known."