The KGB's Power: In Some Ways, Little Has Changed

March 06, 1994|By KATHY LALLY

MOSCOW — Moscow. -- On the surface, nearly everything has changed here: You can buy a Snickers bar at any kiosk and watch a pirated version of an American film in Moscow even before it opens in Nebraska.

Just a little below the surface, however, life rolls along just as it always has for many people, especially those who were in the KGB. Both a scientist named Vil S. Mirzayanov and President Boris N. Yeltsin can testify to that.

Dr. Mirzayanov got into trouble with the Russian intelligence agency in the fall of 1992, when he told the world that Moscow had kept up research into chemical weapons well after it was proclaiming it had stopped.

Dr. Mirzayanov was accused of revealing state secrets and pursued relentlessly, even after Mr. Yeltsin himself tried to get the case quietly dropped.

Mr. Yeltsin observed another test of the intelligence service's strength last week when the leaders of the October revolt were hurriedly released from prison despite all of Mr. Yeltsin's efforts to slow the process down.

The security police, one wing of the former intelligence service, are now officially called the Federal Counterintelligence Service, after a reorganization in December. But everyone still says KGB, because those ominous initials remind that little has changed there.

While Mr. Yeltsin appeared to be conceding at least temporary victory to the security police, the slight, frail Dr. Mirzayanov had no intention of doing so.

Dr. Mirzayanov emerged from the clutches of prison Feb. 22, unchastened and ready to challenge the darker forces of Russian society once more.

"I'm planning to bring criminal charges against the KGB," he said, "for the moral and physical damages they've inflicted on me."

Dr. Mirzayanov, a 58-year-old chemist, spent his working life perfecting Russia's chemical weapons. Now he plans to dedicate himself to righting some of the wrongs he thinks the powerful military-industrial complex engineered as it strove to dominate the world.

"All scientists who work in this system are slaves," said Dr. Mirzayanov, who was part of it for 26 years. "And the tragedy starts the moment they try to understand what's going on."

Dr. Mirzayanov set off on this perilous path in September, 1992, when he told a reporter for The Baltimore Sun that Russia had kept up research on chemical weapons until at least December 1991 despite assertions to the contrary.

At the same time, he and another scientist published an article in Moscow News making the same charges. After The Sun published another article a few weeks later, with a more detailed account of the chemical weapons research, Dr. Mirzayanov was arrested and held for 10 days in Lefortovo Prison.

He was charged with divulging state secrets and was imprisoned again Jan. 27, after his trial began. Though the court decided Feb. 14 to refer the case for further investigation -- apparently bowing to political pressure to drop the charges -- Dr. Mirzayanov was only released from prison eight days later.

Dr. Mirzayanov has asserted that he broke no laws, that he never revealed any secret information but only blew the whistle on governmental lies.

His experiences since he stepped forward and spoke up have transformed him, and made the past a burden he is still struggling to lift. "I gave all my energy and life's work to this criminal organization," said Dr. Mirzayanov. "I regret it very much. I want to redeem myself."

It's a big job -- defeating the intelligence agency and its vast network of alliances in the military-industrial complex -- that this mild-mannered man has taken on.

Dr. Mirzayanov's supporters have said that the security agency was able to keep pressing his prosecution, even though the nation's top political leadership wanted it dropped. Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev said Thursday that Mr. Yeltsin had told him earlier in the week that the Mirzayanov case was an "unfortunate episode" and that he wanted it dropped.

Alexander Asnis, the chemist's lawyer, said that his appeals had not reached the nation's top prosecutor, Alexei Kazannik.

Mr. Kazannik, considered one of Russia's few completely principled officials, resigned a week ago in protest over the amnesty granted by parliament to the leaders of the 1991 coup and the October parliamentary revolt. He said he couldn't legally stop it even though he opposed it.

Dr. Mirzayanov's appeals to Mr. Kazannik were blocked by one of the prosecutor's deputies, who oversees cases such as Dr. Mirzayanov's that involve the security agencies, Mr. Asnis said.

Eventually, pressure from the United States and other countries reached Mr. Yeltsin's security adviser, Yuri Baturin, who interceded with the president. But even after Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Kazannik made it clear they wanted the case dropped, it took some time to get Dr. Mirzayanov out of prison.

"They wanted me to understand the hell I could find myself in," he said. "They wanted him to understand who runs things here."

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