Former FSB Informant Applies for U.K. Asylum
A former opposition activist who claims that he was recruited by the Federal Security Service to infiltrate former chess champion Garry Kasparov's political movement said Thursday that he had applied for political asylum in Britain.
Alexander Novikov, who said he was paid 8,000 rubles per month over a period of two years to give the FSB regular reports on Kasparov's organization, the United Civil Front, said he had applied for asylum at the British Embassy in Copenhagen.
In a telephone interview from Denmark, Novikov, 36, said his FSB handlers wanted to know about "any step, any move, any protest" by Kasparov's group. "They were interested in everything, down to the finest detail," Novikov said.
Novikov's story supports claims by opposition activists that the FSB sends spies into their ranks, despite a 1995 law that forbids law enforcers from covertly joining registered political organizations with the goal of influencing their activities.
"I have suspected several people of being agents," said Lolita Tsariya, who heads the Moscow branch of the United Civil Front. She confirmed that Novikov had participated in the United Civil Front's meetings and protests.
Novikov said he was "ashamed" of his behavior and had gone to the West so he could be free to tell his story. An interview he gave to Danish television this week included a public apology to Kasparov.
Reached by telephone Thursday, Kasparov said he was aware of Novikov's story but too busy to comment.
An FSB spokesman declined to comment immediately Thursday and asked for a written inquiry. A faxed request for comment was not answered in time for publication. Repeated phone calls to the Moscow branch of the FSB went unanswered Thursday.
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Copenhagen declined to comment for this report.
Andrei Soldatov, an independent expert on the Russian security services who met Novikov in Denmark and wrote an article published Thursday in Novaya Gazeta, said he was convinced that Novikov had collaborated with the FSB.
"There were simply very many small details that seemed right -- what side of the street people walked on, how they set up the meetings and so on," said Soldatov, who edits the web site Agentura.ru.
Novikov said his career as a snitch began about two years ago, after he went to an FSB office to inquire about an acquaintance whom he had not seen for a long time. Two weeks later, the FSB called him back and offered "an interesting job," Novikov said. That job was spying on the United Civil Front.
Soldatov said he did not believe the story of Novikov's recruitment but that details about Novikov's contacts with his FSB handlers were credible.
Novikov met regularly with his handlers in cafes and cars, providing them with written reports about Kasparov's organization, said Novikov, adding that his FSB codename was "Mikhail."
Initially his handler was a man named Alexei Vladimirovich, and then it was a younger man named Alexei Lvovich, he said.
While being filmed by Danish television this week, Novikov called Alexei Lvovich on his mobile phone. The two discussed payment issues, and Novikov told his handler that he might be appointed to a committee within the United Civil Front, according to a transcript of the conversation published by Novaya Gazeta.
Novikov said he participated regularly in Dissenters' Marches and other protests. Last November, he was detained during a protest outside Moscow police headquarters on Ulitsa Petrovka in support of Kasparov, who was in jail at the time.
Gradually, Novikov began to sympathize with the opposition activists he was spying on, which sparked arguments with his FSB handlers, who called the activists "sick people" and "idiots," he said.
"I told them, 'If these people are sick, why do you beat them? Why do you attack them with clubs?'" Novikov recalled.
Novikov claimed that Tsariya, his fellow activist, had recently offered him a position as head of the northwestern Moscow branch of the United Civil Front.
He also claimed that in December he spoiled Kasparov's plans to run for president by telling the FSB which venue would host the required meeting of 500 supporters who would nominate Kasparov as a candidate. After his supporters failed to find a venue that could host the meeting, Kasparov abandoned his presidential plans.
Tsariya, however, questioned those two claims. She denied that she had offered him any leadership position in the organization, stressing that it was an elected position, not an appointed one.
"He had no chances of becoming a leader because he did not have much authority within the organization," Tsariya said.
Novikov could not have told the FSB where Kasparov's supporters were planning to meet because he did not have access to that information, she added.
When told about Tsariya's charges, Novikov conceded that he was not necessarily the person who derailed Kasparov's presidential plans because there were probably others working for the FSB as well. "I suspect there were other people besides me," he said.
Both Tsariya and Soldatov speculated that Novikov's real motive in airing his story was to immigrate to the West, possibly for economic reasons. Soldatov said he might be omitting some parts in order to improve his image.
"One can think of many possible reasons why he wants to go to the West," Soldatov said. "It is possible he is taking advantage of his situation in order to stay there. But is that enough reason to dismiss his story as total rubbish? I do not think so."
(The Moscow Times