Monday, 19 March 2018

Novichuk: the backstory the Baltimore Sun revealed

Here is the Novichuk backstory the British media won't tell:

Russia still doing secret work on chemical arms Research goes on as government seeks U.N. ban

October 18, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau



MOSCOW -- Even as Russia joined other countries last week in presenting to the United Nations a treaty that would forever ban the production of chemical weapons, research on new, more powerful poison nerve gases continues here, in a top-secret program code-named Foliant.

Scientists at the high-security laboratory in Moscow where research on chemical weapons is carried out say they have never stopped their quest for the most effective nerve gas.

They say they believe they have developed poisons that are more lethal than any in the U.S. arsenal.

In seeking the abolition of chemical weapons at the United Nations while sponsoring research into their development in Moscow, the Russian government is following in the footsteps of its predecessor, the Soviet Union.


Beginning in 1987, the Soviet government of Mikhail S. Gorbachev repeatedly called for an international ban on chemical weapons and announced on several occasions that it had unilaterally stopped production of its own poison gases.

L But secret scientific research into new gases never wavered.

That research has come to light only because scientists at the lab have taken the extraordinary step over the past month of meeting with a Western correspondent to talk about their work there -- deadly work that they themselves would now like to see brought to a halt.

Ultimately, economic considerations rather than principle may finally accomplish just that. Funds for research on chemical warfare are being slashed by the government of President Boris N. Yeltsin, which has urgent priorities elsewhere, and sources suggest that research at the lab may wind down by the end of the year.

But throughout the era of Mr. Gorbachev's perestroika, when reform was sweeping through the top layers of Soviet society, when an era of good feeling toward the West, and the United States in particular, was dawning, little at the lab was changing. Researchers spent those dramatic years conscientiously pursuing new ways of killing people.

The State Union Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, at No. 23 Highway of the Enthusiasts, was described by one its top officials in a recent interview as "the leader in the technology of chemical destruction."

Secret program began in 1982

Breakthrough research on a new class of nerve gases, under the top-secret program, began at the institute in 1982. Five years later, when Mr. Gorbachev first renounced the use of chemical weapons, scientists produced a binary nerve gas they nicknamed "Novichok [Newcomer] No. 5."

Today, scientists at the lab are working on Novichok Nos. 8 and 9.

These are highly toxic substances that are absorbed through the skin or lungs and that shut down the nervous system. On a battlefield, they would kill men in much the same way that pesticides kill beetles, cockroaches and other pests.

The existence of the institute was revealed only on Sept. 16, by Vil Mirzayanov, a former researcher there. Articles in Moskovskiye Novosti and The Sun reported that a new nerve gas had been developed there as recently as last year. Since then, scientists have said that research has never stopped.

U.S. experts in the field say the United States is unlikely to be searching for a more toxic agent because, as one knowledgeable source put it, "the U.S. has never thought we would need a more toxic agent." The research here is more likely to be toward a "more controllable technology," said another source.

Gordon Burck, a chemical engineer engaged as a consultant on the Chemical Warfare Convention, said that to determine whether research at the Moscow lab was out of line "you'd have to look at the dividing line between what is offensive and defensive."

"Defensive work will always continue," he said.

But he added: "If work on a chemical agent was going on in the back room, I should think Yeltsin would be unhappy."

"Sooner or later the Russians are going to have to realize they can't have it both ways," said a Western military analyst in Moscow.

The Soviet research lab occupies a nondescript concrete building marked by faded curtains and a dirty lobby floor.

The only sign outside the building is for a cancer clinic that occupies a corner of the first floor -- on the public side of the elaborate gate-pass system.

Inside, according to Eduard L. Sarkisian, was once a world of discipline, purpose and privilege. A toxicologist, he came to the lab 13 years ago and liked what he saw.

It was a "yashik," or box, as Russians called it -- a closed part of the vast Soviet military-industrial complex. The money was good, the extra privileges were good, and the sense of working for a good cause was bracing.

3 scientists arrested over nerve gas reports Russian police release 2, hold 1

October 23, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau


MOSCOW -- Three scientists who discussed top-secret chemical weapons research with a reporter from The Sun were arrested yesterday by Russian security police during simultaneous raids on their apartments in different regions of Moscow.

Two were released after a full day of questioning. One of the men will be charged with divulging state secrets, Russian television said.

Papers and passports were seized from the three men during searches of their homes that lasted from two to four hours.

Dr. Vil Mirzayanov, who worked until a year ago at the State Union Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, where top-secret work on new poison gases is carried out, remained at the Lefortovo Prison.

Last month, he and Lev Fyodorov, a chemist active in the fledgling environmental movement here, revealed in an interview with The Sun and later in Moskovskiye Novosti that research at the lab had continued at least through January. At the same time, as far back as 1987, the Soviet government was claiming that all chemical weapons production had been halted.

The authorities focused yesterday on the article in Moskovskiye Novosti. A statement released by the Russian Security Ministry said that the article "disclosed information about the situation with developments in the field of chemical technology, which constitute a state secret." The ministry is the successor to the Soviet KGB.

In a broader article, last Sunday, The Sun reported that such research, aimed at developing more effective binary nerve gases, was still going on under a program code-named Foliant. The article described the work of the lab over the years, the high level of importance and privilege accorded its scientists under the Soviet system and the feeling of scientists there now that the work should cease.

Dr. Fyodorov was one of those detained and then released yesterday. In an interview last night, he said: "I understood this event would come. They're just trying to defend themselves."

He said he believes the whole incident was an attempt at intimidation. It was clear from the questions he was asked while in detention, he said, that he had been followed at least since Monday, a day after the most recent article about the lab appeared in The Sun.

Also questioned by police and released yesterday was Eduard Sarkisian, a toxicologist still working at the lab who was quoted in Sunday's article in The Sun but not in the earlier article.

All three were taken to the Security Ministry's Lefortovo Prison. Three reporters who entered the prison's reception area during the day were told to leave at once. The raids on the scientists' homes began about 7:30 a.m. yesterday. Seven agents appeared at each apartment, demanding entry. Dr. Fyodorov and Dr. Mirzayanov's wife thought at first that they were burglars.

When Dr. Mirzayanov realized the men were in fact security agents, he telephoned journalists and a human rights activist because he said he wanted witnesses. But then the police threatened to break his door down, and he let them in.

They offered no explanation as to what they were doing, according to Nuriya Mirzayanova, the chemist's wife, and no crime was alleged on their warrant. But the agents, led by Major N. A. Odnovolik, sent Dr. Mirzayanov away in one car and then began a search of the apartment -- even though the warrant, in accord with Russian law, guaranteed Dr. Mirzayanov the right to be present during such a search.

The agents told Mrs. Mirzayanova that her husband was the likely target of a criminal case, and mentioned the Moskovskiye Novosti article he had written.

After searching the two-room apartment, which the Mirzayanovs share with their two children, the agents seized Dr. Mirzayanov's passport and several of his documents (including copies of The Sun's article of Sept. 16).

"They told me to shut up and wouldn't let me use the phone," Mrs. Mirzayanova said afterward. "I told them, 'Why should I shut up? I'm in my house, not yours.' "

Last night an investigator called Mrs. Mirzayanova and told her that no charges had been brought so far against her husband, but that he was being kept in detention. The investigator told her to bring a toothbrush and other personal effects to Lefortovo Prison this morning.

Moscow Television reported last night that one of the authors of the Moskovskiye Novosti article -- clearly referring to Dr. Mirzayanov -- had been charged with divulging a state secret, a crime punishable by two to five years in prison.

The Itar-Tass news agency reported that "proofs" of his guilt had been found during the search of his apartment. Russian Television, which speaks authoritatively for the government, reported that the case involves "industrial espionage," although the articles in question concern only weapons research.

The agents who came for Dr. Fyodorov asked him what his relations were with Moskovskiye Novosti and with The Sun, he said later. During his interrogation at Lefortovo, he was asked several times about his connections with The Sun, and was asked to describe his knowledge of new chemical weapons.

Dr. Fyodorov and Dr. Sarkisian said they had been told they were being detained as potential witnesses in a criminal case.

Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich, former vice commander of Soviet chemical forces and now an aide to President Boris N. Yeltsin on chemical and biological disarmament, has denied that Russia possesses any "new weapons systems," and termed the articles about weapons development "slanders."

Dr. Fyodorov said he asked his interrogator at one point yesterday, "If it's all a lie, as Kuntsevich says, then why am I here?"

He received no answer.


Russian chemist charged with revealing secrets

October 24, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau


MOSCOW -- Russian security police seized documents from three Moscow newspapers yesterday as they broadened their campaign to clamp down on revelations about poison gas research here.

A chemist who first revealed the existence of a top-secret chemical weapons laboratory was formally charged with divulging a state secret.

The charge stems from an interview Dr. Vil Mirzayanov gave to The Sun Sept. 15 and an article he co-authored in the Sept. 20 issue of Moskovskiye Novosti (Moscow News), although the formal charge does not mention The Sun. A second article in The Sun on Sunday detailed continuing research at the lab into binary nerve gases.


The Russian Ministry of Security -- successor to the Soviet KGB -- accused him of revealing "information about the state of work in the chemical technology that involves state secrets," Moscow Radio said.

Dr. Mirzayanov and two other scientists were taken to Lefortovo Prison by security agents Thursday morning. The other two, Dr. Lev Fyodorov and Dr. Eduard Sarkisian, a toxicologist still working at the lab, were released Thursday evening. Both men were among those who spoke to The Sun.

The case has galvanized human rights activists in Moscow, who view it as the first serious action of the security police since well before the failed coup of August 1991.

The Moscow Helsinki group, led by Alexei Smirnov, a former political prisoner, said it would provide a lawyer for Dr. Mirzayanov. The editors of Moskovskiye Novosti told activists that they were considering paying the lawyer's fee.

Mr. Smirnov's group -- which takes its name from the Helsinki agreement on human rights -- also began planning a campaign abroad in support of the jailed chemist.

Police appeared yesterday at the offices of Moskovskiye Novosti, Argumenti i Fakti and Novoe Vremya, and seized materials being used to prepare articles about the chemical weapons research.

On Tuesday, Novoe Vremya interviewed Lev Fyodorov, one of the scientists who was seized and later released. The warrant for his detention and for a search of his apartment was signed about an hour after the newspaper interview.

Dr. Mirzayanov is a former researcher at the poison-gas lab, known officially as the State Union Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology.

He revealed that research and development of poison gases for wartime use had continued at the lab, despite Soviet announcements that chemical weapons production had been halted as far back as 1987.

Dr. Mirzayanov will remain in custody until his trial. The charge against him carries a penalty of two to five years in prison.


Russian whistle-blower denied visit with lawyer He unmasked plan for chemical arms

October 29, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau


MOSCOW -- Six days after the scientist who blew the whistle on Russia's chemical weapons program was jailed here, his lawyer has not been allowed to visit him or even look at the secret law under which he is charged.

The lawyer, Aleksandr Asnis, calls the restrictions "ridiculous." But he said yesterday that he is already building the case to free Vil Mirzayanov, the chemist who was taken away to Lefortovo Prison by security police a week ago.

Support for Dr. Mirzayanov came from several quarters yesterday.

Mr. Asnis said he has the backing of the Moscow Board of Trial Lawyers in a challenge he is preparing against the secret law.

Human rights veterans have been plotting ways to bring pressure on the government.

Several major newspapers have featured the case prominently on their front pages, often including caustic commentary.

And the security police themselves have given a hint that the chemist -- who has been held in isolation -- could be released by next week.

In an article Dr. Mirzayanov wrote for Moskovskiye Novosti and in an interview with The Sun last month, the 57-year-old chemist revealed the existence and nature of a top-secret institute for research and development of more effective poison gases while the government was publicly calling for the elimination of chemical weapons.

After a second, more detailed article appeared in The Sun, he was arrested by police from the Russian Ministry of Security, the successor agency to the KGB.

Two other scientists interviewed by The Sun were questioned and then released.

At the time, it was announced that Dr. Mirzayanov had been charged under Article 75 of the criminal code, which forbids the publication of state secrets.

Within two days, the Moscow Helsinki group, a human-rights organization, found Mr. Asnis to represent him. Moskovskiye Novostiye agreed to pay the lawyer's fee.

But Mr. Asnis said yesterday that when he tried to arrange a visit with Dr. Mirzayanov, he was told that such a visit would be impossible because of the chemist's knowledge of state secrets. In fact, even Dr. Mirzayanov's wife has been unable to see him.

Mr. Asnis said he was also told that the chemist faces charges under a secret subsection of Article 75, adopted in 1987, and because the lawyer does not have security clearance he cannot be permitted to read that part of the law.

Investigators did tell him that he could appeal to the prosecutor's office for permission to visit his client.

Ivan Zemlenushin, the prosecutor assigned to the case, was described by his office as being out of Moscow yesterday and unavailable for comment.

The prosecutor is the most powerful figure in Russia's unusual judicial system, generally exercising complete control over a criminal case. The judge is secondary.

Traditionally, the defense lawyer has been selected by the government and is expected to agree with the prosecutor.

In recent years, though, actual defense lawyers such as Mr. Asnis have emerged. But Dr. Mirzayanov's case seems to carry the system to an extreme, Mr. Asnis said.

He pointed out that even Vladimir Kryuchkov, one of the plotters of the 1991 coup, has been allowed to see his lawyer, although as former head of the KGB Mr. Kryuchkov presumably knows a state secret or two.

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Mr. Asnis will argue that Article 75 is too vague to apply to Dr. Mirzayanov and that the secret subsection should have no standing in court.

Moskovskiye Novosti, which gave over its front page and an entire inside page to the case yesterday, said the security police had launched a political case rather than a legal one.

The newspaper, in a special statement, called it "a violation of the freedom of the press, which is guaranteed by the Constitution."

"This dangerous precedent," it said, "could become a basis for a return to the practice of preliminary censorship."

Dr. Mirzayanov's only offense, the newspaper continued, was to show Russia's double standard concerning chemical weapons.

"The intention to terminate chemical weapons proclaimed by the leadership of the country is at variance with the real practice," it said.


Russian who exposed chemical arms is freed from jail pending trial

November 03, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau




MOSCOW -- Happy and decidedly unrepentant, the chemist who was arrested for revealing Russia's secret chemical weapons program was released from jail yesterday pending his trial.

After 11 days at the notorious Lefortovo Prison, during which he was allowed to see neither his wife nor his lawyer, Vil Mirzayanov walked out of the Baumanski District Court yesterday, borrowed 28 rubles from a Russian reporter, and took the subway home.

Later, over a light evening meal of herbed tea, cold cuts, thick chunks of bread and jam made with wild strawberries from his native Bashkiria, Dr. Mirzayanov declared that he had done nothing wrong in divulging the existence of Russia's continuing research into binary nerve gases and that he has no regrets about doing so.

"Not even for a minute," he said. "And that's not bravado. I have no regrets. What I do regret is that for nearly 50 years I've been crawling for these people. I won't keep crawling any longer."

The 57-year-old Dr. Mirzayanov, who worked for 13 years at the secret poison-gas research institute before quitting in January, was the co-author of an article describing the lab, that appeared in Moscow News in September. He also discussed its work in an interview with The Sun. A more recent Sun article described the continuing research at the lab in greater detail.

He and two other scientists, Lev Fyodorov and Eduard Sarkisian, who also were interviewed by The Sun, were detained by security police Oct. 22. The others were questioned and released the same day.

Dr. Mirzayanov said he had been interrogated for about 2 1/2 hours every day, except weekends, by Viktor Shkarin, a senior investigator with the Ministry of Security, formerly the KGB.

Mr. Shkarin pressed him to admit that he himself had worked directly on the development of new binary nerve gases, he said.

If he had done so, that would make his description of the work a criminal violation. Dr. Mirzayanov said, however, that he did not -- that his job involved finding ways to hide the chemical traces of poison-gas tests.

Mr. Shkarin also pressed him to accept the services of a lawyer, Vladimir Vasiliev, who had been provided by the Security Ministry, Dr. Mirzayanov said. The chemist said he consistently refused to have anything to do with Mr. Vasiliev.

Mr. Shkarin, he said, told him his wife had agreed to hire Mr. Vasiliev -- which was not true.

She did hire Aleksandr Asnis to represent her husband. So far, investigators have refused to let the lawyer see any documents relating to the case -- including the secret law under which Dr. Mirzayanov has been charged. Mr. Asnis also was not allowed to visit his client while he was in Lefortovo Prison.

Dr. Mirzayanov was formally charged Friday, he said. "I protested against Mr. Asnis being barred from defending me, and their trying to impose their own lawyers -- their own agents," he said yesterday.

The charge against him, he said, was based on an affidavit signed by his former boss -- Viktor Petronin, director of the secret lab. It accused him of revealing information about development of new chemical weapons, about plans to produce chemical weapons, and about production and testing sites.

Dr. Mirzayanov said he believes he was actually arrested because his revelations may jeopardize an agreement under which the United States was to provide $25 million to help design plants for the destruction of chemical weapons.

"I wasn't surprised by the arrest," he said. "To some extent, I was ready. I knew that I hadn't breached state security, but that I had stepped on their corns.

"I thought they would react in the old way, and I was right."

The scientist said he was not mistreated at Lefortovo. He shared a 6-foot by 18-foot cell with two other inmates -- one who had been accused of hard-currency dealings in Minsk in 1990, and one accused of killing a lieutenant colonel in the security police during a drunken brawl.

The food was better than many Russians live on at home, he said. Every interrogation room was graced with pictures not only of Lenin but also of Felix Dzerzhinski, the ferocious founder of what became the KGB.

"The whole system has remained the same," Dr. Mirzayanov said. "Though the treatment was quite civilized, there was a pressure at this prison -- a feeling that there's no way out."

The chemist said he was aware of the strong interest in his case among the Russian press, because the investigator, Mr. Shkarin, told him about it.

"I'm grateful to the press for the fuss they made. I'll always be in debt to the press," he said.

The attention paid to his case by several radio stations and by newspapers -- from Izvestia to Trud to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, among others -- does in fact demonstrate how some things have changed here. Coverage was uniformly critical of the security ministry and supportive of Dr. Mirzayanov.

He is sure he was released only because of the publicity surrounding the case.

No date has been set for his trial.

Last week, while still in jail, Dr. Mirzayanov filed a suit on his own, without a lawyer's assistance, charging the security ministry with unlawful arrest.




March 19, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau


MOSCOW -- The ambitious chemical weapons program of the Soviet Union -- now in the hands of the Russian government and no longer a closely held secret in any sense -- seems to have become an issue that won't go away.

It is troubling in several ways, touching on the legal rights of Russian citizens, environmental concerns, even the future of the economy. But most of all, it raises the question of just what responsibility Russia has for its often-lethal Soviet inheritance.

Since becoming a sovereign nation, Russia has held talks with the United States on mutual destruction of chemical weapons. In January, Russia signed an international treaty that will completely ban such weapons early in the next century.


But at the same time, legal authorities here are preparing proceedings in three separate cases involving public disclosures about secret weapons research.

One of those cases is just now being launched.

But even as police and prosecutors move against researchers who have chosen to describe their work, which was once among the nation's most closely guarded secrets, more and more scientists are stepping forward.

Since September, when the first revelations were published, a ,, week doesn't go by without a national newspaper tackling the issue of chemical weapons research. How much went on? What were the goals? What was the cost? And what happens next?

Backlash to hide program?

The scientists say they developed extraordinarily effective nerve gases, working at a time when Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and his associates were insisting that they had halted all chemical weapons production.

Some critics here wonder why officials have reacted so sternly to the disclosures, at a time when chemical weapons are being ushered off the world stage, when Russia has no intrinsic interest in covering up the Soviet legacy, and when plenty of other former secrets are being revealed.

A few suggest that the security police -- successors to the former Soviet KGB -- have fastened onto this issue as a way of testing their clout.

Lev Fyodorov, a chemist and environmental activist, has another interpretation. The official reaction, he believes, reflects the magnitude of a program which is still largely unknown.

"The prosecution going on now is a consequence of the scale of the works," he said recently. "If it all became known, we would find out that the state -- and some people -- are deeply involved in a very dirty affair."

Scientist awaits trial

Dr. Fyodorov was the man who was primarily responsible for the first reports on continuing chemical weapons research here. He persuaded Vil Mirzayanov, a former researcher at a top-secret Moscow lab, to go public last September in an interview with The Sun and in an article they wrote for Moscow News.

In October Dr. Mirzayanov was arrested and charged with divulging a state secret, under a secret subsection of the law that neither he nor his lawyer has yet been allowed to review.

After spending 11 days in the Lubyanka prison, he is now home awaiting trial.

A special commission is to be established to advise the court whether Dr. Mirzayanov actually disclosed state secrets and what harm that may have caused. But all of those proposed by Dr. Mirzayanov's lawyer to be members of this commission -- including several active-duty army officers -- have been rejected by the prosecution.

The case against Dr. Mirzayanov has become a cause celebre in Moscow, but he is far from alone in discussing the years of research into better, deadlier poison gases.

Human guinea pig

One of those who believes he paid a particularly heavy price for his work is Vladimir Petrenko, who lives in the formerly closed city of Volsk, near the Volga River.

A decade ago, when Mr. Petrenko was a 22-year-old lieutenant in a special army unit, he was summoned by his commanding officer and told to volunteer for an important assignment.

The young chemical researcher submitted himself as a human guinea pig for a top-secret test at a Soviet poison gas laboratory in the town of Shikhani.

Lieutenant Petrenko, 22, was told he would be exposed to an unnamed poison gas so as to test the reliability of a new protective suit. But over the next decade, the despairing and sickly Mr. Petrenko slowly came to the conclusion that it had all been a sham -- that in fact the purpose of the test had been to expose him directly to a minute amount of a new, experimental gas, in order to gauge its effectiveness.

Mr. Petrenko has been plagued by skin ailments and respiratory problems since the 1982 test. He was, he says, drummed out of the army for complaining about his ruined health and the complete lack of information about what had happened to him.

His ambition to have a scientific career was cast aside -- he became a politician instead.

Guinea pig turned politician


Russians to question writer for Sun Stories on weapons apparently at issue

April 03, 1993|By Moscow Bureau


MOSCOW -- Officials of the Russian Ministry of Security -- one of the successors to the Soviet secret police agency known as the KGB -- have summoned Will Englund, The Sun's Moscow correspondent, to appear for questioning, apparently in connection with stories Mr. Englund has written about Russia's chemical weapons program.

Since last fall, Mr. Englund has written several articles about the program, based on interviews with scientists and officials involved in it. The contention of many sources in these articles was that while the former Soviet Union and later Russia were publicly supportive of treaties to eliminate chemical weapons, newer and more lethal weapons were still being developed.

In September, Mr. Englund interviewed a chemist, Vil Mirzayanov, who was later charged with revealing state secrets regarding chemical weapons.

Mr. Mirzayanov was arrested in late October and held for 10 days before being released. The investigation of his case is continuing. Neither Mr. Mirzayanov nor his lawyer has been allowed to see the section of the law under which the chemist is being charged.


Viktor A. Shkarin, the investigator handling the Mirzayanov case, called Mr. Englund by telephone at home this week and told him to appear Monday at the Security Ministry headquarters at Lefortovo Prison. Mr. Shkarin declined to tell Mr. Englund what sort of questions he wanted to ask him. He said the reporter would be asked for a "witnessing statement" and that the session would take about an hour. He said he would allow Mr. Englund to bring his lawyer to the interview.


Summons concerns U.S.

April 07, 1993|By Washington Bureau



WASHINGTON -- The State Department said yesterday that it had "expressed our concern" over the Russian Security Ministry's summons of a Baltimore Sun Moscow correspondent for questioning about articles he has written.

Will Englund was ordered to appear today for questioning by the security ministry that is the successor to the KGB. He was not told what he would be asked about. But the summons apparently is related to articles Mr. Englund has written about the development of chemical weapons in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Vil Mirzayanov, a scientist who talked to Mr. Englund about the program and published an article of his own, has been charged with illegally disclosing state secrets.

"Our embassy in Moscow has expressed our concern about the case to the Russian Foreign Ministry," Richard Boucher, the state department spokesman, said of the order for Mr. Englund to appear. "We'll continue to follow that case closely."

Alexei Kandaurov, a spokesman for the Russian Security Ministry, told the Associated Press that he had no direct knowledge of Mr. Englund's case, but that "under the law, he can be summoned and questioned as a witness. There is nothing unnatural or illogical in it."

The summons appeared to be the first for a U.S. reporter in Russia since the arrest in 1986 of Nicholas Danilov, a correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, who was held briefly on espionage charges and then released in the prelude to a U.S.-Soviet summit, the AP reported.

Sun reporter in Moscow to face questioning without a lawyer

April 08, 1993

The Russian Ministry of Security has ordered Baltimore Sun correspondent Will Englund to report back to Moscow's Lefortovo prison today for questioning, after informing him yesterday that his American lawyer and a U.S. Embassy official will be barred from the meeting.

Mr. Englund answered an earlier summons yesterday but declined to cooperate when the Russian investigator refused to allow the lawyer and the consular official to be present. He said he had been assured this would be allowed before he went to Lefortovo yesterday.

The Sun correspondent has not been told why the Ministry of Security, known as the KGB until 1991, wants to question him. But the official who summoned him, a captain in the former KGB named Viktor A. Shkarin, is the chief investigator in a case being prepared against Vil Mirzayanov, a Russian chemist.


On September, 16, 1992, The Sun published an article by Mr. Englund about chemical weapons research in the former Soviet Union, in which he quoted Dr. Mirzayanov extensively. On the same day, Moscow News published an article written by Dr. Mirzayanov and another scientist criticizing the continuing development of poison gases.

The Sun published a second article Oct. 19, 1992, in which Mr. Englund described the chemical research program in greater detail. On Oct. 22, Dr. Mirzayanov was arrested by Ministry of Security agents.

He has been charged with revealing state secrets.

Mr. Englund was first contacted by Mr. Shkarin on March 31.

He was was told Tuesday that his lawyer, Nancy Richman, an American consular official and a translator would be permitted to accompany him for the questioning yesterday. But when he arrived, Mr. Shkarin told him he had only agreed to allow the lawyer and consular official to accompany Mr. Englund into the building.

Mr. Englund refused to be interrogated under those conditions. "As far as I'm concerned, his dealings with me were in completely bad faith," he said.

Kathryn Christensen, managing editor of The Sun, said yesterday that the newspaper was "very concerned about the actions of the Security Ministry."

"We hope that no further attempts at intimidation are made and that the matter is resolved quickly," she said.

Yesterday's events occurred as a U.S. congressional leadership delegation was visiting Moscow.

The delegation included Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, who met yesterday with Valery Zorkin, the head of the Russian Constitutional Court, and asked him to look into the matter.

Richard A. Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat and House majority leader, said he spoke yesterday with Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, the speaker of the Russian Parliament, who has been leading attacks on President Boris N. Yeltsin, and tried to impress upon him the importance of a free press.

"I told him we often get criticized by you," he told reporters later, "and we often don't enjoy it but we feel very strongly about a free press. We did make a very clear statement."

Previously, the U.S. State Department said it had expressed its "concern" to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry said the summons caught them by surprise. They said in the past, the KGB would inevitably have warned them in advance about any such contact with an American reporter. They said they heard nothing about it until U.S. Embassy officials called the Foreign Ministry Tuesday to request a meeting on the matter.

The Russian security authorities have made it clear that Mr. Englund is being treated as a witness, rather than a suspect. Alexei Kandaurov, a spokesman for the Security Ministry, said that under Russian law a lawyer did not need to be present during the questioning of a witness. He added that if Mr. Englund refuses to appear today, he would be arrested.

The summons of Mr. Englund appears to be the first for an American reporter in Russia since 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a reporter for U.S. News and World Report, was held briefly on espionage charges and then released before a U.S.-Soviet summit.

Sun reporter questioned for 4 hours in Moscow

April 09, 1993


Will Englund, a Moscow correspondent for The Sun, was questioned for four hours yesterday by an investigator of the Russian Security Ministry about an article he wrote last year describing chemical weapons development in the former Soviet Union.

He was interrogated by Capt. Viktor A. Shkarin, a former officer of the KGB, which became the Security Ministry after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party.

The interrogation took place at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. Captain Shkarin is heading the investigation of a Russian chemical scientist, Vil Mirzayanov, who was an identified source in Mr. Englund's article. Dr. Mirzayanov has been charged with revealing state secrets.


Dr. Mirzayanov had told The Sun that Russian scientists had secretly developed a nerve gas 10 times more deadly than VX, a similar U.S. chemical agent, at a time when the Soviet government was publicly supporting treaties that would eliminate chemical weapons.

Mr. Englund was accompanied to yesterday's interrogation by Nancy Richman, his lawyer, David Whiddon, a U.S. consular official, and Andrei Mironov, a Russian interpreter employed by The Sun.

Captain Shkarin allowed only the interpreter in the interrogation room, although Mr. Englund was permitted to consult with Ms. Richman outside the room.

Mr. Englund said all the questions regarded his article last Sept. 16 that was based on an interview with Dr. Mirzayanov and another scientist, Dr. Lev Fyodorov.

He said he refused to give any information beyond what had been in the article except to say that Dr. Mirzayanov had not asked to be paid.

"I made a general statement protesting the summons and saying I had nothing to add to the Sept. 16 story," Mr. Englund said.

He was released after the four-hour interview. There was no indication he would be summoned again.

"Shkarin was by turns bullying, polite, joking, bored, angry," Mr. Englund said. "At one point he accused me of intending to lie to him."

After the interview, Mr. Englund was asked to sign a "protocol" describing the questions and answers. It was in Russian and Mr. Englund refused to sign.

But ultimately, Mr. Mironov, the interpreter, signed the document.

Interrogation at Lefortovo

April 10, 1993


Moscow's Lefortovo is a forbidding-looking brick fortress prison built in the shape of a K -- a bizarre tribute to Katherine the Great by the architect, who was infatuated with the empress.

Over the centuries, thousands have passed through Lefortovo's TC dark corridors. To some it was the starting point on a long journey through czarist penal colonies and, later, through Stalin's Gulag. Others languished in its tepid cells until they received the executioner's call. The lucky ones -- who were relatively few -- eventually were let go.

Will Englund, a Moscow correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, has been making repeated trips to Lefortovo in recent days at the demand of the Russian Security Ministry, which is building a case against one of his sources.


In a September 1992 article, Mr. Englund quoted a Russian chemical scientist, Vil Mirzayanov, as saying that at a time when the Kremlin was publicly supporting treaties eliminating chemical weapons, his country had secretly developed a nerve gas 10 times more deadly than a similar U.S. chemical agent. The article -- and a similar one based on Dr. Mirzayanov's allegations in a Moscow newspaper -- greatly embarrassed the authorities, who arrested the whistle blower and charged him with revealing state secrets.

This case has now seemingly become entangled with the unresolved internal power struggle in Russia. How else are we to interpret a wisecrack by Mr. Englund's interrogator that the reason he had not bothered to take down a Communist hammer-and-sickle seal from his office wall was because he might just have to put it back up again? By going so doggedly after an American reporter in a case where published facts speak for themselves, some elements in the former KGB clearly are trying to send a message to Moscow's foreign press corps as well as to the domestic news media.

Few governments like the disclosure of information they want suppressed. Even in this country, courts sometimes try to force journalists to disclose their sources -- this, despite democratic and constitutional protections for a free press.

The interrogation at Lefortovo underscores how fragile Russia's freedoms still are. Yet, ironically, it gives the Russian government an opportunity to send its own bureaucrats and enforcers a new kind of message -- one that blows the whistle on ham-handed attempts to intimidate reporters.


Russian papers investigated after new disclosures on chemical arms

June 11, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Security Ministry police are moving against a second scientist who has made public disclosures about Russia's chemical weapons program. This week they demanded notes, tapes and other materials from two Moscow newspapers that had interviewed the scientist, their editors said yesterday.

Both newspapers said, however, that they provided nothing except previously published articles.

The target of the investigation is Vladimir Uglev, who until two years ago was the primary researcher at a top- secret laboratory trying to develop powerful new nerve gases.

In a series of interviews in February, Dr. Uglev said the laboratory, in the Volga River town of Shikhani, had succeeded in its mission.


The nerve gas, nicknamed Novichok, or newcomer, is 5 to 10 times more potent than VX, its American counterpart, he said.

But most troubling, in Dr. Uglev's view, was that the components of Novichok are not explicitly covered by a treaty banning chemical weapons production that Russia signed in January.

The top-secret nerve-gas program was first brought to public attention in September by a former researcher at an affiliated lab in Moscow, Vil Mirzayanov.

Dr. Mirzayanov was arrested in October and charged with divulging a state secret. He is awaiting trial.

Dr. Uglev, 50, said he decided to come forward with details of the Shikhani lab's involvement to show his support for Dr. Mirzayanov. As a member of his local city council he enjoys legal immunity. But after he went public his former boss at the laboratory asked the council to strip him of his immunity so he could face prosecution.

Wednesday, a group including a colonel in the security police -- successors to the Soviet KGB -- appeared at the offices of a periodical called New Times. He identified himself as Mikhail Zhestkov, from the Saratov district, which includes Shikhani.

He said that an investigation of Dr. Uglev had begun and he demanded any tapes, notes or original documents pertaining to the scientist, as well as a copy of New Times' February interview with him, according to Alexander Pumpyanski, the editor.

Later in the day, Colonel Zhestkov appeared at the offices of Moscow News, and made a similar demand, Leonard Nikishin, the science editor, said yesterday.

Editors at both newspapers furnished the investigator with copies of their published articles, but told him they had no other materials.

"There were no secrets in our publication," said Mr. Nikishin. "Our position is, there can be no state secrets regarding chemical weapons after the signing of the Paris convention" under which dTC Russia pledged to abolish such weapons.

"We think the KGB visit was entirely groundless."

"We published an interview which discloses secret activities of the Chemistry Ministry," said Mr. Pumpyanski, "but these

activities are contrary to the stated policies of the government," which renounced chemical weapons work when it signed the treaty.

"It's quite natural that these ministries should fight back, and use methods that have been known to us for a long time."

The Security Ministry police demanded similar materials from both publications after the arrest of Dr. Mirzayanov. In addition, a correspondent for The Sun, which has reported the chemical weapons disclosures, was interrogated by the Security Ministry April 8.


Arrest of chemist ordered

January 27, 1994|By Ann Imse | Ann Imse,Contributing Writer

MOSCOW -- A Moscow court ordered police to arrest a Russian scientist yesterday after he refused to participate in a closed-door trial on charges that he divulged state secrets on chemical weapons research.

"I will be put in jail -- that's obvious," said a tense Vil Mirzayanov, his eyes blinking rapidly as if near tears. Speaking at a news conference before going home to await arrest, the 58-year-old scientist said he felt like a man awaiting surgery.

But he said that he had foreseen the possibility of being jailed in Moscow's feared Lefortovo Prison when he decided in 1992 to reveal that Russia had developed a highly lethal new chemical weapon long after former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev had promised that such research had ended.


Until early 1992, Dr. Mirzayanov had helped cover up Russian chemical weapons tests while working as chief of counterespionage in the institute that developed the weapons. Then he chose to tell the world about his country's continued chemical weapons work in an article he wrote for Moscow News and in interviews with The Sun and Russia's New Times magazine.

Dr. Mirzayanov has argued that his trial is illegal because he is charged under a secret law, and the new Russian constitution approved by voters in December specifically states that "unpublished laws are not valid."

Even the formal charges against him do not quote the law, but instead identify it only by its number.

The scientist called his case a key test of whether Russia would break its centuries-old tradition of political interference in the courts and instead abide by its new constitution.

He called on President Boris N. Yeltsin to "defend the constitution" and halt the trial.

His lawyer, Alexander Asnis, charged that Dr. Mirzayanov is being targeted by leaders of the still-powerful Russian military-industrial complex, including a member of Mr. Yeltsin's staff. He was referring to Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich, who directed the chemical weapons research program when he was vice commander of the Soviet chemical forces and who now serves as Mr. Yeltsin's adviser on chemical disarmament.

Dr. Mirzayanov was supported in the news conference by representatives of Helsinki Watch and two Moscow human rights organizations, who supported his stand on the illegality of the proceedings.

"What is more clear than the right to be judged by a public trial?" said Rachel Denber of the Moscow office of Helsinki Watch.

"We think it is one of the hottest questions in human rights in Russia today," she said.

"[Dr. Mirzayanov] is defending the constitution and international agreements" on chemical weapons, said human rights activist Andrei Mironov. "The tradition of dissidence is continuing."

In a closed trial on charges of violating a secret law, the Moscow City Court ruled on Monday that it did not need to know what secrets Dr. Mirzayanov allegedly had divulged.

Although Dr. Mirzayanov spent 11 days in Lefortovo Prison when first charged in 1992, he said he had hoped the case would be dropped after adoption of the new constitution.

Dr. Mirzayanov's attorney said he was encouraged slightly yesterday when the prosecutor -- whom he'd previously described as Stalinist -- told the court there was insufficient cause to arrest Dr. Mirzayanov.

"I'd like to think that it means a change in attitude in the prosecutor's office," Mr. Asnis said, but he added that he had no concrete indication of any easing in political pressure for a conviction.

But the three-judge court ignored the prosecutor's statement and ordered Dr. Mirzayanov arrested anyway. The court then suspended the trial until Feb. 3, even though it already had scheduled testimony in the coming days. Rights activists said this might indicate that the judges expect new instructions.

Two policemen armed with AK-47s visited Dr. Mirzayanov's home three times on Tuesday and yesterday to try to force him to attend the trial.

On the first try, they left after the scientist's wife, Nuria, pointed out that their orders were dated the next day. On the second and third tries, Dr. Mirzayanov was not at home.

Instead, he spent the night at his daughter's home, talking with family, supporters and reporters.

Dr. Mirzayanov spoke of President Bill Clinton's recent summit with Mr. Yeltsin, complaining, "Clinton comes and congratulates them on democracy. What for? This is a fascist country. Everyone knows there are no laws, no constitution."


Sun reporter called to testify in trial of Russian accused of divulging 'secrets'

February 08, 1994|By Deborah Stead | Deborah Stead,Special to The Sun


MOSCOW -- Will Englund, a Moscow correspondent for The Sun, has been called to testify at the closed-door trial of Russian scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who publicly accused Russia of maintaining a secret chemical-warfare research program.

Mr. Englund, who wrote an article for The Sun in September 1992 based on Dr. Mirzayanov's allegation, was telephoned yesterday from the Moscow City Court and asked to appear at today's morning session.

He responded by requesting an official summons and later said he would ask for a delay "until I have a chance to confer with my lawyer," who is recovering from the flu.


Dr. Mirzayanov, 58, who worked at a top-secret Moscow laboratory from 1965 to 1992, is accused of divulging state secrets under charges stemming from his interview with The Sun and from articles appearing in two Russian weeklies, Moskovski Novosti and Novoe Vremya.

Mr. Englund said he may also request that any testimony he gives be delivered in open court.

"I think my newspaper takes a dim view of its reporters participating in a closed-door process," he said. "What worries me is the possibility that exists for distorting what I would have to say."

Russian courts typically provide a summary, but not a verbatim account, of witnesses' testimony.

Mr. Englund said that "documents already filed with the court distorted what I said to an investigator last spring."

In April 1993 the Ministry of Security, successor to the KGB, interrogated Mr. Englund about his articles for four hours in an interview room at Moscow's Lefortovo Prison.

"I emphasized over and over that Dr. Mirzayanov had given me no technical information in my interview with him, but that was deleted from the report filed with the court," he said.

Asked at Lefortovo to sign the interrogator's account of the session, Mr. Englund refused.

Last Friday, the court called as a witness Leonard Nikishin, science editor at Moskovski Novosti. Mr. Nikishin told reporters waiting outside the courtroom that he testified to the "non-technical, non-tactical" nature of Dr. Mirzayanov's revelation that Russia was developing a deadly new nerve gas.

The trial continued yesterday, after a report Friday by the Itar-Tass news agency that President Boris N. Yeltsin may consider the case "anti-constitutional" because it is based on unpublished regulations about state secrets. Under the Russian constitution approved by voters Dec. 12, citizens may not be prosecuted under secret laws or regulations.

The defense already had termed the case unconstitutional, but the court has refused to consider the issue.

Officials seemed to be distancing themselves yesterday from the legal proceeding, perhaps to avoid looking as if they have undue influence over the judiciary.

"Our courts are independent," said Sergei Svistunov, a spokesman for Mr. Yeltsin. "This is a matter for the prosecutor and the judges."

Alexander Asnis, Dr. Mirzayanov's lawyer, told journalists and supporters waiting outside the courtroom that he thinks the trial will proceed "for a week at least." The court heard testimony yesterday from Stanislav Sokolov, a scientist at the Organic Chemistry Research Institute, the secret lab where Dr. Mirzayanov worked.

The three-judge tribunal also heard a request from Mr. Asnis to summon some prominent witnesses, including former Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov and two liberal legislators -- Lev Ponomaryov and Gleb Yakunin.

Dr. Mirzayanov claims he appealed to these officials with his accusations about the continuing chemical weapons research long before he went public, and that he turned to the press only when they failed to act on his allegations.

The court will rule on Mr. Asnis' request today.


Russian scientists disagree whether chemist gave away weapons secrets

February 09, 1994|By Deborah Stead | Deborah Stead,Special to The Sun


MOSCOW -- Experts testifying at the closed-door trial of Vil Mirzayanov disagreed yesterday on whether the 58-year-old chemist gave away damaging state secrets when he went public about Russia's continuing chemical warfare research.

The three scientists, whose names were not disclosed, are specialists in chemical weapons.

In testimony that took up most of the day, one scientist said he believes Dr. Mirzayanov violated Russia's official secrets law by damaging the country's defense capability.

But the other two said Dr. Mirzayanov did not give away state secrets in whistle-blowing interviews in 1992 with The Sun and with two Russian weeklies, Moskovski Novosti and Novoe Vremya.

The panel of judges presiding over the trial in Moscow City Court listened to the specialists but made no interim ruling, said Alexander Asnis, Dr. Mirzayanov's attorney.

Expert findings often form the basis of the court's final ruling.

"It's a good sign, but only a sign," said Andrei Mironov, a human rights activist, who has been following the trial along with other supporters of Dr. Mirzayanov.

Scheduled testimony by Sun correspondent Will Englund was postponed yesterday after Mr. Englund requested time to confer with his lawyer.

In a letter delivered to the judges after a subpoena arrived at his home yesterday morning, Mr. Englund described his "grave reservations about participating in a closed trial," citing his four-hour interrogation at Lefortovo Prison last year, which resulted in a "false and artificially constructed" record of his remarks.

"I respectfully request that, in answer to your summons, I may appear in an open courtroom," he said in his letter, "specifically, a court where my lawyer can be present and all members of the press and public who want to attend. There is nothing to which I could testify that is not already public knowledge."

The trial is closed to the public because the indictment against Dr. Mirzayanov concerns state secrets -- although what constitutes a state secret in this case is itself a state secret. So far, no technical or tactical secrets have come up at the trial, according to Mr. Asnis, and the court has refused to allow his client a glimpse of the regulation that forms the basis of his charge.

Dr. Mirzayanov says he is not guilty of divulging state secrets and considers the charge against him to be unconstitutional.

The new constitution, adopted Dec. 12, outlaws the use of secret laws to prosecute citizens.

The court is scheduled to hear testimony today from Lev Fyodorov, a chemist and environmentalist, who persuaded Dr. Mirzayanov to go public about Russia's search for new nerve gases. The trial is expected to continue through the week.


Yeltsin fires official overseeing chemical disarmament

April 08, 1994|By Los Angeles Times


MOSCOW -- Anatoly Kuntsevich, the retired army general assigned to abolish Russia's chemical and biological warfare programs but lately accused of working to prolong them, was dismissed from his post yesterday.

A one-sentence Kremlin announcement said only that President Boris N. Yeltsin fired Mr. Kuntsevich for "numerous and gross violations" of his duties as chairman of Mr. Yeltsin's Committee on Problems of Chemical and Biological Disarmament.

Mr. Yeltsin had come under criticism at home and in the West for allowing Mr. Kuntsevich, a soldier-scientist who once ran the Soviet chemical weapons-making complex, to oversee the destruction of his own empire -- tens of thousands of tons of poisonous nerve gas and mustard gas stored at seven heavily guarded sites across Russia.


The immediate reason for Mr. Kuntsevich's dismissal was unclear. But it came shortly after he lost a celebrated legal and political battle with one of his chief critics, chemist Vil S. Mirzayanov.

Dr. Mirzayanov announced in October 1992 that Russia was testing a new generation of chemical weapons after having signed agreements banning them. He was arrested and put on trial for disclosing state secrets, with Mr. Kuntsevich as a chief accuser.

Amid an outcry of protest from human rights groups and foreign governments, the charges were dropped a month ago.

London's Sunday Times echoed the chemist's assertion last month, saying that three Russian defectors had reported steps by the military, behind Mr. Yeltsin's back, to develop biological weapons of mass destruction.

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