SECURITY officials here Xare reviving the cold war practice of harassing foreign journalists, complicating attempts to forge a new relationship of cooperation between the United States and Russia.
Prosecutors and security officials yesterday summoned Will Englund, the Baltimore Sun's Moscow correspondent, for a second consecutive day to the Russian capital's Lefortovo Prison. The American journalist was interrogated for more than four hours in a case involving a Russian citizen accused of divulging state secrets about Russia's chemical weapons program.
"This is, in recent memory, a virtually unprecedented incident," Mr. Englund said after emerging from Lefortovo, one of the most famous detention centers of the former KGB, the Soviet secret police. "It has a chilling effect on news gathering."
On April 7, Englund refused to talk with investigators, saying Russian authorities reneged on promises to allow his lawyers or a representative of the US Embassy to be present during questioning. He consented to be questioned yesterday, along with his own interpreter, but refused to sign a statement prepared by the security officials.
"I was fortunate not to have been here during the cold war era," Englund told reporters April 7. "But [the security authorities' conduct] reminds me of all that I heard about the KGB's activities back then. It makes you wonder if they are attempting to reassert the old ways."
Last September, Englund interviewed Vil Mirzayanov, a scientist formerly involved in Russia's chemical weapons program. Mr. Mirzayanov, according to a story published by the Sun, charged that the former Soviet Union had developed deadly chemical weapons, despite pledges from then-President Mikhail Gorbachev that all such weapons research had stopped several years earlier.
Mirzayanov also wrote a story about Russia's chemical weapons program that was published by the Moscow News weekly. Officers from the Security Ministry, as the former KGB is known, arrested the scientist in October and charged him with revealing state secrets to the media. He is still awaiting trial. No charges have been brought against Englund or the Sun, Englund said.
The interrogation session yesterday focused on the circumstances of his interview with Mirzayanov. The investigator argued that Englund could keep the information he received confidential but had to reveal the names of his informants. Other than confirming the factual accuracy of what had been published, "I refused to talk about that based on the confidentiality provisions of Russian law," Englund said. The Russian law on the press does provide for protection of reporters' sources.
There is some concern that the incident may be an attempt, staged by nationalist and neo-communist forces in Security Ministry to scuttle efforts by President Boris Yeltsin to build closer relations with the West, particularly the US. The reformist Mr. Yeltsin and his political allies are seeking Western support in their bitter power struggle with the conservative-dominated Russian parliament.
"It [the timing] seems strange. You might say it's provocative," Englund said of the Security Ministry actions. "Perhaps this was planned as a provocation for the [Vancouver] summit."
It is also possible, Englund said, that security officials have something to hide about their chemical weapons program.
Mirzayanov told the Sun that Russian scientists had developed a nerve gas 10 times more deadly than VX, a similar US chemical agent. The scientist added that fears about an environmental disaster if the gas actually went into production prompted him to reveal its existence.