MOSCOW, June 21 -- Against a backdrop
of legal assaults on tycoons, harassment of free-thinking
journalists and a general tightening of the state grip
on things, Russia's leading pro-democracy political party
now says federal intelligence agents are spying on it.
Russia's domestic intelligence agency,
the Federal Security Service, has yet to comment on the
accusation, posted on the Web site of Russia's Yabloko
Party and echoed in a scathing letter from Yabloko's leader,
the federal legislator Grigory Yavlinsky. But the charge
gained weight this week when two St. Petersburg students
who are Yabloko members claimed that federal agents tried
to recruit them as political spies -- and, when the two
refused, engineered their ejection from St. Petersburg's
Baltic State Technical University.
The two students, both 20, were conditionally
reinstated this week after their complaints became public.
The university rector, Yuri P. Savelky,
asserted in an interview today that the entire affair
was an innocent misunderstanding. But Yabloko's iconoclastic
chairman, Mr. Yavlinsky, disagreed, noting that one student
said the agents asked him about Yabloko's financing and
his own ties to the West.
"Creating an atmosphere of surveillance
and blackmail will lead to enormous losses for our country,"
Mr. Yavlinsky wrote in a letter, made public, to Nikolai
Patrushev, the chairman of the security service, known
everywhere as the F.S.B.
As if to underscore that, Yabloko and
a new pro-democracy party, the Union of Right Forces,
announced a quasi-merger today, a move aimed at strengthening
Russian political support for a "civil society." The term,
almost a mantra in Russian politics these days, connotes
a land in which there is common agreement that everyone
has to play by and obey the same rules.
Mr. Putin has been an ardent advocate
of such a society, even as he has been roundly accused
of subverting its most basic principles in places like
Chechnya or with the skirmishing over media freedoms.
But as is true about much of what is
unfolding in Russia these days, it is not at all clear
whether Mr. Putin himself approved of or even knew about
the security service's work. There is no doubt that various
arms of the Russian government have heightened their scrutiny
of potentially disruptive figures -- from Yabloko to the
independent press tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky -- in ways
that evoke unpleasant memories of Soviet repression.
But whether Mr. Putin is the mastermind
of these forays -- or is fighting a rear-guard action
against them -- no one outside the Kremlin appears to
know. In the latest case, two 20-year-old students at
Baltic State's aircraft and rocketry department, Dmitri
Barkovsky and Konstantin Suzdal, claimed that they were
approached in late May by two agents from the security
service who asked questions about their studies, then
gravitated to their political work.
"They started asking me about the structure
of the Yabloko party and about different ways of financing
Yabloko's election campaigns," Mr. Barkovsky, a fourth-year
student at the university, said in an interview today.
"I tried not to respond to their questions, but they started
According to newspaper reports, the F.S.B.
agents said Yabloko was spying for foreign powers and
appeared to have more money at its disposal than might
be expected of an independent political faction. Mr. Barkovsky,
who calls himself an ardent Yabloko activist, later wrote
a letter of protest to Mr. Patrushev, the security service's
chairman, calling the pressure "persecution of my family
for public expression of my political views."
A week after the meeting with security
service officials on May 31, Mr. Barkovsky was barred
from taking his exams at the university, and was shortly
expelled. Mr. Suzdal, who could not be reached, also was
removed from classes. In a conversation today, the university
rector, Mr. Savelky, said both students had missed their
final exams without explanation and had been failing classes
because their political activity interfered with their
Despite that, he said, F.S.B. agents
had met with Mr. Barkovsky last month as part of a continuing
effort to recruit "smart and well-educated students" to
their ranks. "They probably had some problems and misunderstood
each other," he said, "because as far as I know, there
was a big scandal at the St. Petersburg F.S.B. office,
and they are going to fire the officer who talked with
him." Neither the St. Petersburg nor the Moscow F.S.B.
spokesmen would comment today on any aspect of the controversy.
of Grigory Yavlinsky on Sergei Dorenko’s programme
Orders Students to Spy on Yabloko