By Paul Goble
With the imposition of a “surprisingly soft” sentence in the latest Russian espionage case, the FSB has not turned the corner toward a more liberal approach but rather sent a message that those charged with spying need to cooperate with the organs in order to receive a lighter sentence, according to two Moscow experts.
In today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan, editors of the Agentura.ru portal, say that it is important to recognize that the sentences handed out in espionage cases in Russia have little to do with the harm any particular spy does and more with the message the Kremlin wants delivered (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=10108).
When Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov were given long prison terms, the two say, Moscow was seeking to send a message to the members of Russia’s scientific community that they should “forget about unsanctioned foreign contacts.” Now, with the Sipachev verdict, the FSB is sending an additional one.
Last week, a Russian court sentenced Gennady Sipachev, an amateur cartographer from Yekaterinburg who was found guilty of providing “secret maps to the Pentagon” to four years of prison, a light punishment by recent standards but one that provides clear evidence that “the FSB is again changing its tactics.”
Although the FSB through the cloak of secrecy over the entire proceedings, the meaning of the Sipachev case is clear, Soldatov and Borogan say. Charges against Sipachev were “formulated approximately as in the case of Sutyagin and Danilov,” but “in contrast to the two scholars,” Sipachev was charged not with espionage but only with violating state secrecy rules.
“It is possible,” the two experts say, “Sipachev’s soft sentence is the Kremlin’s reaction to the loud scandals and criticism [surrounding the Danilov and Sutyagin case] by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg Human Rights Court, and other international organizations of which Russia is a participant.”
But it is more probable, the two argue, that what has happened reflects two new trends in FSB practice. On the one hand, Soldatov and Borogan say, in an increasing number of cases, the FSB prefers to bring the lesser charges of revealing state secrets or even economic crimes than attracting the kind of attention, often negative, it receives from making spy charges directly.
And on the other, they point out, the FSB appears to be increasingly interested in gaining the cooperation of those it charges by offering or appearing to offer lesser sentences to those who cooperate with its investigation, something that appears to have been the case with Sipachev and his attorneys.
The two intelligence experts note that after one recent trial, a newspaper published a letter from one of those convicted which said that his defense had committed “systemic efforts” by not agreeing to cooperate with the FSB. Had it done so, he continued, there would not have been any serious consequences.
`Indeed, the convict continued, the firm involved in his case might have received as a result of such cooperation “a unique form of protection, in the good sense of this word, in the person of the economic security service of the FSB,” an apparent signal in itself that the organs are open for all kinds of “cooperation.”
Thus, Soldatov and Borogan say, “the light sentence in Sipachev’s case is yet another signal that cooperating with the organs is not simply necessary but also useful. And in case anyone missed the point, news stories about the case noted specifically that Sipachev had completely admitted his guilt and then provided assistance to investigators.
This appears to be the first time that such a negotiation has taken place between a Russian charged with one or another form of espionage and the organs, although as in other countries, Russian law allows for such negotiations in order to gain valuable information from those charged with crimes.
By applying this tactic in Sipachev’s case, Soldatov and Borogan say, “the FSB clearly showed that acknowledgement of guilt in espionage cases and active cooperation by the accused with the investigation” will be rewarded. “A message that in general is fully understandable.”
But there is just one problem in this case: Sipachev, a civilian without access to secrets, was sentenced to prison for revealing them, while “the individual who supplied the amateur collector with secret maps has not landed in court,” a shortcoming that neither the Russian courts nor the FSB have yet explained.