MOSCOW — A RUSSIAN scientist charged with disclosing secrets about the Kremlin's chemical weapons program went on trial despite protests by international human rights activists yesterday, just days before President Clinton is due to arrive in Moscow for summit talks on Jan. 12.
The closed-door trial of Vil Mirzayanov was held as activists from Helsinki Watch and other human rights organizations protested outside the Moscow City Courthouse. The US State Department had previously asked several times that international observers be allowed to monitor the proceedings.
``This trial is not democratic because it's taking place in a totalitarian regime,'' Mr. Mirzayanov said in an interview after the session. ``The KGB, the court, and the prosecutor are all leftovers from the totalitarian regime. Nothing about them has changed.''
The trial, which began yesterday morning, was abruptly adjourned after only half an hour because of the illness of Mirzayanov's lawyer and a judge involved in the proceedings, Mirzayanov said. It is scheduled to reconvene on Jan. 24.
In September 1992, Mirzayanov and fellow scientist Lev Fyodorov co-wrote an article in the respected Moscow News weekly alleging that Russia had tested the world's most powerful binary chemical weapons in apparent violation of a previous agreement with the United States to destroy such weapons.
A chemist with the Moscow Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, Mirzayanov wrote that the Russian weapon was developed from a ``poisonous agent'' developed there. He later warned that Russia could produce weapons outside factories from agricultural pesticides, and that other weapons could be produced from dismantled old weapons and therefore not show up on lists subject to international inspection.
On Oct. 22, 1992, shortly after the article was published, Mirzayanov was arrested and charged with disclosing state secrets by Russia's Security Ministry, the former KGB. He was later released from custody on condition that he not leave Russia.
Prior to his arrest, his house was searched by the Russian Prosecutor's Office, which said it found proof that he disclosed state secrets, an offense subject to two to five years imprisonment. Since his release, Mirzayanov has charged that President Boris Yeltsin's reorganized KGB is harassing him. ``My telephone and apartment are all bugged,'' he says.
Co-author Fyodorov was not arrested because at the time he worked for the Russian Academy of Sciences and was never forced to sign documents there pledging not to reveal state secrets. Mr. Fyodorov, who works in the Vernadsky Institute of Geo-Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry in the Russian Academy of Sciences, said yesterday that the proceedings were nothing but a``show trial'' to detract attention away from Russia's chemical weapons failures. He recently became president of the Union for Chemical Security, an organization founded last October by scientific organizations in five regions of Russia where the bulk of military chemical production is concentrated.
``The state doesn't want us to know about our dirty chemical past. They don't want us to find out that there was no need to develop chemical and biological weapons because nuclear weapons were enough to ensure state security,'' Fyodorov said in an interview. ``That means we would find out that the state was governed by fools.'' He added that it was ironic that the trial, which casts aspersions on Russia's claim to free speech, especially concerning state security, comes right before Mr. Clinton's visit.
Will Englund, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, was grilled in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison for two days by the KGB last April after publishing an article about the scientists. The Security Ministry wanted to know how Mr. Englund obtained an interview with Mirzayanov and Fyodorov, as well as if they had provided him with any scientific or technical information. Englund said he revealed nothing other than what had been printed in his article.