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Russia: Nikitin's Wife Returns Despite Passport's 'Clerical Error'

  • Brian Whitmore



St. Petersburg, 21 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Tatyana Chernova, the wife of environmental activist and retired navy captain Alexander Nikitin, has re-entered Russia from Norway without incident.

Chernova was met by Nikitin, his attorney Yury Schmidt, as well as TV camera crews, photographers and about 20 journalists as she cleared passport control and customs at St. Petersburg's airport yesterday.

Chernova left Russia last Wednesday to visit her daughter in Norway and celebrate her 19th birthday. Her passport was stamped "exit for permanent residence abroad" a move that customs officials now call a "clerical error," but which, according Russian law, should have made her return to Russia illegal without an entry visa.

"My flight was awful. I was on the edge of hysterics all the way from Oslo, anticipating a huge scandal," Chernova told the English-language "St. Petersburg Times" following an emotional airport reunion with her husband.

"Ever since Wednesday, I have been counting on being separated from my husband yet again."

Chernova said that representatives of Russia's Foreign Ministry in Oslo, told her Friday "not to bother" attempting to go back without special permission.

American journalist Charles Digges, who has been covering the Nikitin affair for the "St. Petersburg Times" and who was on the scene, said customs officials tried to prevent reporters from entering the restricted customs area, but eventually caved in.

"They weren't about to stop us," said Digges. "It was also clear that they weren't going to touch her in front of the media."

As Nikitin waited anxiously for his wife, he joked nervously with Schmidt about the possibility of her being searched for "nuclear reactors," according to Digges.

When Chernova became visible after clearing passport control, Nikitin let out a sigh of relief. "I am not inclined to scandals," he said. "But I would have made a scandal here today had they not let her in."

Vladimir Kuznetsov, a passport control spokesman at the airport, told the "St. Petersburg Times" that the stamp Chernova received in her passport Wednesday "had been a big mistake."

"We didn't expect so much noise to come of a clerical error," he said.

Chernova, however refuses to believe that the stamp was a mistake, but, rather, that it was calculated harassment from the Federal Security Service (FSB).

The FSB arrested Nikitin February 6, 1996, and detained him for ten months for co-authoring a report published by the Norwegian environmental organization "Bellona." The report was critical of the Russian Navy's handling of nuclear waste. The FSB has ruled the report "forbidden literature," and it has been reportedly confiscated at customs regularly.

Nikitin was released last month on the order of Russia's First Deputy General Prosecutor, Mikhail Katyshev, who said at the time that "mistakes had been made" in the investigation. Katyshev is now reviewing the FSB allegations against Nikitin, whose trial is still pending.

Meanwhile, Chernova's problems might not be over.

A spokesman for the organization that issues passports to Russians and visas to foreigners (OVIR) said that the stamp has effectively canceled Chernova's passport, and that she must apply for a new one.
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