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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FSB Orders Students to Spy on Yabloko




ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yabloko political movement says federal agents approached two students active in its ranks and gave them an ultimatum: Spy on Yabloko from within, or find yourself sent off to fight in Chechnya.


The students at St. Petersburg's Baltic State University, Dmitry Barkovsky and Konstantin Suzdal, have laid out their allegations in a letter posted on Yabloko's web site (www.yabloko.ru). Their plight has been taken up by Grigory Yavlinsky f who says top Yabloko leaders, including himself, have come under surveillance of federal agents on orders from President Vladimir Putin.


Yavlinsky, who heads the liberal Yabloko movement's parliamentary faction, has requested a formal explanation from Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main KGB successor agency. Patrushev succeeded Putin, who left the director's chair at the FSB in August to become prime minister.


Yavlinsky's letter asked Patrushev: "Are the Yabloko movement and its leaders the targets of a covert surveillance operation f and if so, on what legal grounds? Is it true that you, in the name of orders from the president of the Russian Federation, [Vladimir] Putin, have ordered a covert surveillance operation against me and my loved ones?"


The letter f versions of which were also sent to President Putin and to Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov f goes on to say, "If the president of the Russian Federation really has ordered you to assemble information about the Yabloko movement and about my professional, social and political activities, then we are prepared to ease your work and provide it."


A spokeswoman for the FSB said she was familiar with the Yabloko allegations, but declined to comment, asking instead for questions by fax. She declined to say when they would be answered.


Students Barkovsky and Suzdal say they were called into an office at Baltic State University in late May and questioned about Yabloko's St. Petersburg branch by two men who identified themselves as FSB officers.


The students said the FSB officers told them Yabloko was involved in spying for unspecified foreign powers. The agents also asked where Yabloko got its campaign financing, why the party had so many offices, why it had recruited so many young people and why Yabloko members closely monitored the Russian media.


One of the students, Barkovsky, said he tried to evade questions, on grounds that he did not know the answers and did not think the questions proper. "In reply I got threats that I would be expelled from the university, that I would be 'sent to Chechnya' and so on, and also threats against my relatives and friends," Barkovsky said, in remarks posted on Yabloko.ru.


Barkovsky said that out of fear he signed a document promising not to leave St. Petersburg without FSB permission, and to provide the FSB with information about the "espionage activities of Yabloko" and about "their methods for sending information abroad."


He said he was given the code name "Georgy" and told he would be called on May 31.


Barkovsky f in his fourth year studying to be a rocket propulsion engineer f also says he soon after began to have trouble in school. He said professors refused to schedule him for exams on May 31, the day of his scheduled FSB meeting. Barkovsky said one professor explained such a refusal by saying, "The situation has changed." Soon after, Barkovsky was expelled.


The Baltic State faculty mentioned in Barkovsky's letter could not be reached for comment. But Igor Kuzmin, deputy rector of the university, said in a telephone interview that Barkovsky was expelled because he was a bad student.


"This scandal is groundless," Kuzmin said. "There have been no FSB representatives in the university, and this student was expelled because he was a poor student who didn't attend lectures and who had very bad results."


Kuzmin had no explanation for the similar allegations of Barkovsky's classmate, Suzdal, who was also expelled recently. Barkovsky says Suzdal was told by the university officials who expelled him that "you have to use your head when choosing your party."


Education Ministry officials were expected at Baltic State this week to investigate the Barkovsky-Suzdal allegations, Kuzmin said. He added that the ministry had asked him to compile a report on all students at the university engaged in any sort of political activity with any party.


Barkovsky and Suzdal both worked for Yabloko during the State Duma elections in 1999, the presidential race in March, and the St. Petersburg gubernatorial race in May, when Yabloko candidate Igor Artemyev was soundly beaten by incumbent Governor Vladimir Yakovlev.


President Putin, a former deputy mayor of St. Petersburg and a 17-year veteran of the KGB, has expressed admiration for Soviet-era informers, calling them patriots. Yabloko's Yavlinsky, in a televised ORT interview this week, countered that the culture of informers and informing ought to be repudiated.


"Creating an atmosphere of surveillance and blackmail will lead to enormous losses for our nation," Yavlinsky said. "To foster an atmosphere of informing will mean to scare off the very best. ? They won't want to participate in public life, or to work for the good of their country."