Russian Scholar Goes On Trial For Spying For U.S.

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - Just two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin freed an American businessman convicted of spying, another espionage trial has begun, this time of a Russian national accused of spying for U.S. and British intelligence.

Igor Sutyagin, 35, a researcher at the Institute for USA and Canada Studies - an arm of the official Russian Academy of Sciences - is accused of passing on secrets relating to a new generation of nuclear submarines.

His trial, in Kaluga, southeast of Moscow, will resume January 9.

The RIA Novosti news agency reports prosecutors believe Sutyagin, a physics graduate, was recruited by American agents while attending a scientific conference in Britain in 1998.

They say he abused his status as a scholar to gain access to closed military bases and obtain secret information.

Sutyagin, who denies any wrongdoing, has been in custody since October 1999, and faces a 20-year jail term if convicted.

That was the sentence handed down earlier this month to Edmond Pope, a businessman and former U.S. naval officer from State College, Pennsylvania, who was convicted of spying.

Following appeals from Washington, Putin pardoned and freed him on December 14.

Sutyagin's lawyer, Vladimir Vasiltsov, has been quoted as saying his client had only used sources already published. Pope had earlier given a similar defense in the Moscow City Court.

The trials of both men are seen as successes for the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB. After Pope was given the maximum sentence, FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich said the verdict had "demonstrated Russia's firm intention to defend its state secrets."

On the day Sutyagin was arrested in 1999, FSB agents also searched the Moscow flat of a Princeton University graduate student who had been Sutyagin's colleague at the institute while working on a thesis.

Agents confiscated Josh Handler's laptop computer and documents, including reports, publications and maps freely available in Russian stores.

The Princetonian reported at the time that Handler, an environmental activist, had been researching a doctoral thesis on U.S. and Russian nuclear disarmament during the 1990s.

His laptop contained data that included some declassified U.S. government satellite photographs of Russian military installations.

On the advice of American diplomats, Handler left Russia soon after the incident.

Green activists have described the harassment as part of a crackdown against Russian environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists.

Earlier this year, Russia's Supreme Court dismissed treason charges against a former submarine captain, Alexander Nikitin, who had cooperated with a Norwegian environmental agency investigating radioactive pollution from Russia's submarine fleet.

Asked about the Sutyagin case, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told a regular press briefing Tuesday he knew nothing about it.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow