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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Espionage Trials Stoke Fear of KGB Return

KALUGA, Russia - To those who accuse Igor Sutyagin of espionage, even things that weren't said seem suspicious.

After Sutyagin, whose trial on charges of spying for the United States resumes Tuesday, was arrested in October 1999, his mother was summoned for questioning by Russia's security service. The family's telephones had apparently been bugged for months, as an agent played a tape of a call, Svetlana Sutyagin said.

"Here, you make a pause in the conversation - I know what you were thinking about," the agent said, according to Mrs. Sutyagin. "You were worried, you knew that your son was doing something wrong."

The intercepted phone call was about ordinary family matters, the family said.

Sutyagin's case is the latest in a series of high-profile espionage trials that human rights activists say signifies a witch-hunt for independent thinkers and an attempt to discourage foreign contacts.

Sutyagin, a researcher from the Institute for USA and Canada Studies, was arrested by the Federal Security Service, or FSB, on charges he was giving classified information about the Russian military to foreign intelligence services.

The USA and Canada Institute has no access to government secrets, and Sutyagin's family and lawyers say his only crime was to have read between the lines of military publications, piecing together facts to construct a picture that the military did not want to be known.

Files in Sutyagin's study at his home hold scores of newspaper clippings, mostly from the official military daily Krasnaya Zvezda, with passages that attracted his attention underlined in red.

"He would spread newspaper clippings around on the floor, on the couch, on his desk, everywhere, and crawl between them," said Sutyagin's wife, Irina Manannikova. "This would go on for days - and something would be born that way."

Agents also searched the Moscow apartment of Princeton University graduate student Joshua Handler, an arms control researcher working with Sutyagin. Handler was not charged and left the country, but FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev later called him a spy. Handler, a former Greenpeace activist, calls the accusation absurd.

Sutyagin's closed-door trial began Dec. 26 in Kaluga, the district center of the researcher's home province southwest of Moscow.

The FSB, which initiated the case, says it is cracking down on spies who supposedly infiltrated Russia amid the lawlessness that followed the Soviet collapse.

Russian security agencies saw their powers trimmed during Boris Yeltsin's years as president, but many fear they are reclaiming lost ground now that 16-year KGB veteran Vladimir Putin is in power.

"Putin surrounds himself with people he knows and understands," said Naum Nim, chief editor of Index/Dossier on Censorship magazine, a publication on the defense of human rights.

Russian authorities lately have seemed to find subversive activity in unlikely places.

In November, a court refused to extend the registration of Moscow's branch of the Salvation Army as a religious organization, accusing it of being a violent militarized group, the charity said.

American businessman Edmond Pope was sentenced to 20 years in prison for espionage in December, in what was widely seen as a show trial by a court heavily biased in favor of the prosecution. Pope was pardoned by Putin on health grounds on Dec. 14 and has returned to the United States.

The Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court in November overturned the acquittal of espionage charges of military journalist Grigory Pasko, who had reported on nuclear waste dumping by the Russian navy. The Supreme Court demanded a retrial.

In September, Putin signed an Information Security Doctrine that warns of "information weapons" allegedly used against Russia by unidentified foreign powers and calls for tighter controls over media, in language ringing with tones of the Soviet era.

At a Kremlin ceremony honoring Russian security service workers on their professional holiday Dec. 20, Putin encouraged his former colleagues to embrace their KGB past, and to "preserve the valuable aspects that have always been present in the work of the security organs of our country." He stressed, however, that the skills should be applied to defending democracy.

The indictment against Sutyagin claims that he was enlisted to spy for the United States when he attended a scientific conference in Britain in early 1998, according to his lawyer.

Some speculate that the FSB was displeased by the researcher's foreign contacts.

"An investigator once asked me: 'When your son was in England, do you think he met with any foreigners?"' said the researcher's father, Vyacheslav Sutyagin.