A Russian academic remains in jail facing accusations of spying for Canada
PAUL WEBSTER,FRED WEIRNovember112002
IS HE CANADA'S MAN IN MOSCOW?
A Russian academic remains in jail facing accusations of spying for Canada
PAUL WEBSTER AND FRED WEIR
AS A BOY, IGOR SUTYAGIN joined the cadets and built model warplanes. “There was never much doubt Igor would become a military expert,” says his father, Vyacheslav, sitting in the bedroom his son once occupied in their cramped apartment. The model planes are gone, and the only other mementoes left by the boy who grew up to be a leading Russian military analyst are a few books and a faded navy pennant. These days, Sutyagin, 37, sits in a damp cell in Moscow’s 18th-century Lefortovo jail, the former KGB prison, after he was arrested in 1999 by the Federal Security Service or FSB, the successor to the KGB, for allegedly giving military secrets to Canada and other NATO countries.
Sutyagin’s relatives say he’s innocent, and want Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to help lobby for his release. But Canadian officials, while strongly denying Sutyagin was spying
for Canada, have so far not spoken out in his defence. And because the indictment is secret, no one knows precisely what he is alleged to have passed on. “We still don’t know what the exact charges are,” says Sutyagin’s pale, slender wife Irina. On the day of his arrest, she says, FSB agents “arrived at 8 a.m. and left at 6 p.m. They were looking for documents—they piled it all here in the
‘We have a proverb,’ Sutyagin’s father says.
‘By beating the people on your own side, you scare the people on the other side.’
living room and took it away.” The couple’s two young daughters were traumatized; the family’s savings, held in cash in a desk drawer, vanished. Now, Sutyagin is not even allowed to discuss the case with Irina during her brief visits to him, twice a month. But he is expected to appear in court again by year’s end to answer more charges; at that point, Sutyagin’s lawyer says, more light may be cast on the Canadian connection.
An innocent analyst caught in a web? Sutyagin’s involvement with Canada began in 1997, when the Department of National Defence contracted prominent academics at the Centre for International and Security Studies at Toronto’s York University, and at the Centre for Security and Defence Studies at Ottawa’s Carleton University, to do research on civil-military relations in the post-Soviet era. According to DND docuContinued on page 49
ments obtained by Maclean’s, the schools were paid $67,000 to investigate how committed the military in Russia and the former Soviet satellites was to democratic reforms. In turn, Sergei Plekhanov, then coordinator of post-Communist studies at the York centre, hired Sutyagin, a rising expert on the Russian military who worked at Moscow’s prestigious Institute of U.S.A. and Canada Studies. (Plekhanov, who left Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was a former deputy director of the institute.)
Sutyagin was to interview senior Russian military officers, many with intelligence backgrounds, about their political opinions. In a report written for DND in 1999, which was obtained by Maclean’s, Sutyagin describes morale among Russian military officers as “disastrous,” with many skeptical of democracy while at the same time being deeply involved in Russian politics. Sutyagin’s report was described by DND officials as “first-rate.” Other documents obtained by Maclean’s through the Access to Information Act show that Canadian officials used Sutyagin’s work to help frame Canada’s overall security strategy involving Russia. And those officials saw his arrest as evidence of the “growing power and influence of Russia’s security and police agencies” in the postCommunist era, according to one document.
The Sutyagin report does read like an intelligence dossier, but hardly seems to be grounds for espionage charges. But there is a more shadowy side to the story. Russia’s revolutionary Shkval (Squall) torpedo, which reportedly can reach speeds of almost 400 km per hour under water, has been of particular interest to Canada and its NATO partners since news of its development reached the West in the early 1990s. After two years of quiet efforts to obtain the torpedo, Ottawa was preparing to pay up to $15 million to various middlemen for at least five Shkval torpedoes produced at a defence plant in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.
But that murky deal was abruptly cancelled—shortly after the FSB arrested Sutyagin. Coincidence? One senior Russian military researcher in Moscow, with contacts in the Kremlin, has seen videotapes of Sutyagin’s prison interrogation; he told Maclean’s that investigators questioned Sutyagin extensively about the Shkval and were extremely anxious about what information he may have passed on to Canada about the weapon. Could Sutyagin have played a role
in attempts to secure a torpedo? DND spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Carié denies any link between the analyst and the department’s attempt to purchase a Shkval, claiming DND had sought “a legal and authorized business transaction to acquire that torpedo.” Sutyagin was certainly no stranger to the secret side of Soviet life. Both his parents were chemists working in the heavily restricted military plants in Obninsk, a once-closed Soviet nuclear engineering city 80 km southwest of Moscow where Sutyagin grew up. His boyhood love of ships and planes led him straight to the naval cadets, then to university to study military history and eventually to his job researching arms control and strategic issues. He gained notoriety in 1999, while working as a researcher at the Institute of U.S.A. and Canada Studies, when he contributed to a book on Russia’s nuclear
forces, which was widely praised by disarmament experts. The study, an appraisal of Russia’s nuclear weapons programs, also drew the attention of the FSB and he was hauled in for questioning. But his father has never doubted his son’s loyalty. “He always defended Russia,” he says. “He was brought up to be a patriot.”
Last December, Sutyagin appeared to have beaten charges of treason. After a secret trial in Moscow that, sources say, centred largely on work Sutyagin had done for a British consulting firm which the FSB alleges is a front for Western intelligence, a judge tossed out his case on the grounds that the FSB failed to specify which national secrets Sutyagin may have disclosed. In a Western country that might have led to acquittal, but under Russian law the case was bounced back to the FSB for “re-investigation,”
and Sutyagin remains in prison without any new charges being laid.
The FSB has since focussed intensively on the work Sutyagin did for DND; his lawyer, Vladimir Vasiltsov, says his client has been extensively interrogated about it. “They were very interested,” says Vasiltsov, “in the analysis he prepared for Canada.” As Canadian officials wait for the case to go back to court, Christopher Alexander, minister-counsellor in the Canadian embassy in Moscow, denies Sutyagin was spying for Canada but concedes, “some of the information gathered by the FSB on Sutyagin relates to Canada.” Likewise, David Betz, the former program officer for DND’s Democratic Civil-Military Relations Program, which funded the York-Carleton Russian military research, confirms that the work Sutyagin did for the Canadians has been “a focus of the FSB investigation.” But he says, “I don’t think there ever was any intelligence potential in the program from either side, which makes the whole Sutyagin thing so ridiculous.”
So why not come to his defence? So far, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs has made no representations to the Russian government concerning the charges against Sutyagin. Behind the scenes, though, Maclean’s has learned that Canada has, in fact, been busy trying to learn more about the FSB’s case against Sutyagin. According to a memo obtained from Foreign Affairs, “the Canadian embassy has sought clarification of the alleged Canadian connection with the appropriate authorities and is waiting for a reply.” After three years, that reply has yet to come, and according to another memo, the department has been forced to rely on “a variety of sources” to learn more about the case against Sutyagin.
Not even the universities and academics who hired Sutyagin appear to be trying to help him. After his arrest, York and Carleton officials released letters complaining only that their program was wrongly seen “as a threat to national security.” But while York University’s Plekhanov refuses to talk about the case, Carleton University professor Harald von Riekhoff, who ran the program with Plekhanov, denounced Ottawa’s refusal to demand Sutyagin’s release. “When I briefed them they seemed rather disinterested,” von Riekhoff says. “I assume they wanted to keep it a private matter.”
Princeton University military researcher
Pavel Podvig, who edited the book on Russian nuclear forces to which Sutyagin contributed, is also critical of the Canadian government. “The universities were almost openly accused of spying under the guise of academic research,” says Podvig, “and the Canadian government did nothing to defend its academics, not to mention say something about Sutyagin. They were afraid to speak up.” Others in Russia say Sutyagin may be a victim of an ominous trend in post-Soviet life: the clampdown on civil liberties. Alexei Simonov, head of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a human rights watchdog, points out that since Vladimir Putin, a former KGB colonel, became Russia’s president, a lot of Soviet-style security practices have been revived, including controls on academic research. “The secret police are back, and a chill has descended on the whole society,” says Simonov. “It only
takes a few examples to intimidate everyone.” Meanwhile, Sutyagin languishes in prison. His family brings him food to offset the prison’s meagre diet, which often consists of little more than soup and bread. “For a long time he was in a cell, with 27 others, that was built for only seven men,” his wife says. “You can see he’s ill. He’s very pale and he’s coughing. A person can rot alive in our prisons.” His father, Vyacheslav, isn’t surprised by his son’s plight—and the growing intimidation in Russia. He says it brings back painful memories of his own grandfather, who was arrested for treason in 1934 and exiled for 13 years by Stalin. “We Russians have a proverb,” he says. “By beating the people on your own side, you scare the people on the other side.” Scaring people may be one of the reasons Sutyagin remains in prison. A lot of people, including some in Ottawa, seem to have taken fright. lifl
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.