Eyewitness: Putin forces pace in new spy mania

March 23, 2001

The chill of Russia's new information security doctrine is being felt in a regional capital outside Moscow, where Igor Sutyagin, a researcher who specialised in arms control issues at Moscow's USA-Canada Institute is accused of passing state secrets to agents of an unspecified Nato country.

He is said to have breached Russian security by preparing reports for Alternative Futures, a British company that has since disappeared from its London offices. The prosecution in the case suggests that it was a front for Western agents. Mr Sutyagin does not deny accepting payments to compile the reports from published and open sources such as newspapers. His trial began earlier this month and, if convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Roy Allison, head of the Russia and Eurasia programme at international affairs think-tank Chatham House, knows Mr Sutyagin personally and says he would never have had access to secret material. Dr Allison says the trend in Russia is towards a flexible interpretation of what may be considered secret.

"The law on state secrets adopted in the mid-1990s gave rise to concerns that all kinds of different agencies were empowered to define what was secret or not. Since then, the Kremlin has adopted an information security doctrine. The climate around the information security doctrine is an ominous one, with the idea that things should not be discussed whether they are secret or not," Dr Allison says.

One of the trial's effects has been to make Russian and western research institutes wary of entering into relations.

Stephen White, professor of politics at Glasgow University and a former president of the British Association for Soviet and Eastern European Studies, said the case reflected a wider clampdown on opportunities for unrestricted research in Russia.

"In areas including fieldwork, interviews and access to archives, there is evidence of some contraction, and we are concerned that this might become a lot worse," he said.

"The mindset of the regime is so much more a KGB or Peter the Great one - secrecy and suspicion of foreigners."

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