Russia's security services have launched another attempt to crack down on a Norwegian environmental group which is investigating the dumping of highly radioactive nuclear waste, by arresting one of its experts and branding him a spy.
Agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB) have arrested a member of the Oslo-based group, Bellona, in St Petersburg and are holding him on charges of espionage, reviving fears that the security services are resorting to the tactics of the old KGB to prevent a scandal being made public.
The arrest of 44-year-old Alexander Nikitin is the latest move against Bellona by FSB agents, who last year raided the group's offices in Murmansk and St Petersburg and seized documents and computer equipment. The group specialises in investigating the dumping of radioactive waste on the Kola Peninsula, near the Norwegian border, by Russia's northern fleet.
Bellona, which also accuses the FSB of repeatedly harassing its staff, said Mr Nikitin's arrest was "a serious blow against democracy and environmental efforts in Russia". Technically, espionage carries a possible death sentence.
It appears Mr Nikitin's role in the group is a matter of particular sensitivity to the Russian authorities: he is a former captain in the Russian navy who became a supervisor of nuclear facilities in the Ministry of Defence before resigning three years ago. A spokesman for the FSB confirmed his arrest, but refused to comment further.
Bellona has become a bugbear for the Russians because of its efforts to probe the navy's heedless and highly dangerous dumping practices. In November it made international headlines by releasing pictures of dozens of spent fuel containers from an early Russian nuclear submarine, saying each was as radioactive as last year's first French nuclear test in the Pacific. They had been sitting in the open near the Norwegian border.