- ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP-CP) -- A retired Russian naval officer who stands
charged with treason expressed confidence Monday as he prepared for his
long-awaited trial for exposing secrets about the Russian navy's disposal
of nuclear waste.
- Alexander Nikitin's trial, which opens
in St. Petersburg today, is being carefully watched by international human-rights
organizations, who have condemned the handling of the case.
- Nikitin helped a Norwegian environmental
group, the Bellona Foundation, compile a 1996 report criticizing sloppy
handling of nuclear waste and reactors in Russia's North Sea Fleet.
- "I feel very confident going into
tomorrow's court case," Nikitin said at a news conference organized
- Nikitin, 45, was arrested Feb. 6, 1996,
by Russian Federal Security Service agents who accused him of exposing
state secrets about nuclear waste-disposal. Nikitin and Bellona maintain
the information came from public records.
- During a visit to Russia in April 1996,
Prime Minister Jean Chretien brought up Nikitin's case in talks with President
- Nikitin was given a Canadian visa in
- Chretien said he jokingly told Yeltsin:
"If he's too much of a problem for him, we'll take him in Canada because
he has applied to be a Canadian citizen."
- But Nikitin spent 10 months in detention
and is still under orders not to leave St. Petersburg.
- Amnesty International declared Nikitin
a prisoner of conscience -- the first in Russia since physicist Andrei
- Legal experts said the case could be
a landmark for the rule of law in Russia. Nikitin has been accused of violating
the 1993 State Secrets Act, which does not spell out what constitutes a
- The Federal Security Service has refused
to reveal the exact basis of the charges against Nikitin.
- Many foreign observers will be attending
the trial, including Amnesty, a representative of the U.S. consulate in
St. Petersburg and U.S. congressman David Skaggs, a Colorado Democrat.
- Journalists will be allowed to cover
some parts of the proceedings but not all. Access will be at the discretion
of Judge Sergei Golets.
- Nikitin's report focused on decommissioned
nuclear submarines that are stored in Murmansk harbor, full of nuclear
fuel. The report said the subs could easily sink, causing a nuclear explosion
worse than that at Chernobyl.
- The report also said the Russian navy
has dumped nuclear reactors on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, or failed
to remove those that have sunk in accidents.
- Ivan Pavlov, one of the lawyers working
on the Nikitin case, was optimistic.
- "We expect only one thing -- victory,"
he said Monday.
- Diederik Lohman, head of the Moscow office
of Human Rights Watch, was a little less hopeful Monday.
- "We are hoping, of course, that
this judge will acquit Nikitin. But we realize the chances of that are
not that great and it is more likely that the case will be sent back for
further investigation," said Lohman, who added only one-half a per
cent to one per cent of all criminal cases in Russia end in acquittal.