Russian who exposed chemical arms is freed from jail pending trial

November 03, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Happy and decidedly unrepentant, the chemist who was arrested for revealing Russia's secret chemical weapons program was released from jail yesterday pending his trial.

After 11 days at the notorious Lefortovo Prison, during which he was allowed to see neither his wife nor his lawyer, Vil Mirzayanov walked out of the Baumanski District Court yesterday, borrowed 28 rubles from a Russian reporter, and took the subway home.

Later, over a light evening meal of herbed tea, cold cuts, thick chunks of bread and jam made with wild strawberries from his native Bashkiria, Dr. Mirzayanov declared that he had done nothing wrong in divulging the existence of Russia's continuing research into binary nerve gases and that he has no regrets about doing so.

"Not even for a minute," he said. "And that's not bravado. I have no regrets. What I do regret is that for nearly 50 years I've been crawling for these people. I won't keep crawling any longer."

The 57-year-old Dr. Mirzayanov, who worked for 13 years at the secret poison-gas research institute before quitting in January, was the co-author of an article describing the lab, that appeared in Moscow News in September. He also discussed its work in an interview with The Sun. A more recent Sun article described the continuing research at the lab in greater detail.

He and two other scientists, Lev Fyodorov and Eduard Sarkisian, who also were interviewed by The Sun, were detained by security police Oct. 22. The others were questioned and released the same day.

Dr. Mirzayanov said he had been interrogated for about 2 1/2 hours every day, except weekends, by Viktor Shkarin, a senior investigator with the Ministry of Security, formerly the KGB.

Mr. Shkarin pressed him to admit that he himself had worked directly on the development of new binary nerve gases, he said.

If he had done so, that would make his description of the work a criminal violation. Dr. Mirzayanov said, however, that he did not -- that his job involved finding ways to hide the chemical traces of poison-gas tests.

Mr. Shkarin also pressed him to accept the services of a lawyer, Vladimir Vasiliev, who had been provided by the Security Ministry, Dr. Mirzayanov said. The chemist said he consistently refused to have anything to do with Mr. Vasiliev.

Mr. Shkarin, he said, told him his wife had agreed to hire Mr. Vasiliev -- which was not true.

She did hire Aleksandr Asnis to represent her husband. So far, investigators have refused to let the lawyer see any documents relating to the case -- including the secret law under which Dr. Mirzayanov has been charged. Mr. Asnis also was not allowed to visit his client while he was in Lefortovo Prison.

Dr. Mirzayanov was formally charged Friday, he said. "I protested against Mr. Asnis being barred from defending me, and their trying to impose their own lawyers -- their own agents," he said yesterday.

The charge against him, he said, was based on an affidavit signed by his former boss -- Viktor Petronin, director of the secret lab. It accused him of revealing information about development of new chemical weapons, about plans to produce chemical weapons, and about production and testing sites.

Dr. Mirzayanov said he believes he was actually arrested because his revelations may jeopardize an agreement under which the United States was to provide $25 million to help design plants for the destruction of chemical weapons.

"I wasn't surprised by the arrest," he said. "To some extent, I was ready. I knew that I hadn't breached state security, but that I had stepped on their corns.

"I thought they would react in the old way, and I was right."

The scientist said he was not mistreated at Lefortovo. He shared a 6-foot by 18-foot cell with two other inmates -- one who had been accused of hard-currency dealings in Minsk in 1990, and one accused of killing a lieutenant colonel in the security police during a drunken brawl.

The food was better than many Russians live on at home, he said. Every interrogation room was graced with pictures not only of Lenin but also of Felix Dzerzhinski, the ferocious founder of what became the KGB.

"The whole system has remained the same," Dr. Mirzayanov said. "Though the treatment was quite civilized, there was a pressure at this prison -- a feeling that there's no way out."

The chemist said he was aware of the strong interest in his case among the Russian press, because the investigator, Mr. Shkarin, told him about it.

"I'm grateful to the press for the fuss they made. I'll always be in debt to the press," he said.

The attention paid to his case by several radio stations and by newspapers -- from Izvestia to Trud to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, among others -- does in fact demonstrate how some things have changed here. Coverage was uniformly critical of the security ministry and supportive of Dr. Mirzayanov.

He is sure he was released only because of the publicity surrounding the case.

No date has been set for his trial.

Last week, while still in jail, Dr. Mirzayanov filed a suit on his own, without a lawyer's assistance, charging the security ministry with unlawful arrest.

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