Anatoly Scharansky, the imprisoned Jewish dissident whose plight has caused wide Western concern, including a personal statement by President Carter, will be put on trial for high treason Monday, the Soviet government announced yesterday.
The surprise scheduling of the trial, to begin two days before next week's Geneva meeting between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko on stategic arms, was seen by Western diplomats here as a deliberate Kremlin insult to Carter.
In the view of some diplomats here, the timing means that the Kremlin has given up the idea of completing a new strategic arms limitation agreement before next year-after congressional elections in the United States and after the furor over Scharansky's trial dies down.
The State Department, in a statement said to have been approved by the president, asserted that the administration will consider the outcome of Scharansky's trial and that of another leading dissident, Alexander Ginzburg, also set for Monday, as "an important indicator" of Moscow's intentions to improve its relations with Washington.
"These trials will be watched closely in the U.S." the spokesman declared. "In our view, the fate of Mr. Scharansky and Mr. Ginzburg will be an important indicator of the attitude of the Soviet government both with regard to observing its commitments under the Helsinki final act and to promoting a healthy atmosphere for the constructive development of U.S. Soviet relations," the State Department said. (Details on Page A6)
The official U.S. position has been that strategic arms limitation negotiations are too important to be allowed to be influenced by other aspects of the complicated relationship between Moscow and Washington.
The Scharansky trial is sure to have profound impact on the already seriously troubled relations between Washington and Moscow, buffeted in recent months by sharp disagreements over the implications of detenate, Soviet military activity in Africa, and a recent series of incidents involving harassment of Americans here, Carter and the Kremlin in the past month have exchanged strong warnings that the other side should change its tactics or face the worsening of relations.
Dropped into this acrimonious atmosphere, the Scharansky trial is sure to further complicate and strain matters.
Few cases in recent Soviet history have brought so much criticism down on the Kremlin. The case of the 30-year-old computer technician has become a pivotal factor in the bitter ideological and moral conflict between the Kremlin and the West over Soviet suppression of human rights activists and others who are at public odds with the government.
As a Jew who was refused an emigration visa and a human rights activist who accused the state of abusing personal freedoms.Scharansky fuses in one person two aspects of Kremlin internal policy which have drawn rebuke and indignation in the West.
The Soviets have charged Scharansky with violation of Article 64 of the criminal code, treason, which carries a minimum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment and a maximum penalty of death. He is the first dessident known to have been charged with treason, a Kremlin action with few precedents since the late dictator Joseph Stalin.
THe official news agency Tass, in an unusual announcement late yesterday marked "attention foreign correspondents," declared "an announcement by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation that the trial of A. B. Scharansky, on a charge of high treason in the form of espionage is to begin in the people's court of Moscow's Proletarsky district at 10 a.m. on July 10.
The news agency said that officials will conduct two briefings a day for foreign correspondents at a location across the city from the courthouse. This unusual step underscores both official acknowledgedment of the deep international interest in Scharansky's fate and the government's determination to carefully control, if possible, every aspect of the case.
KGB police have interrogated dozens of dissidents about the case over several months in an investigation that sources say is without parallel in recent years.
Scharansky has been held incommunicado at Lefortou prison since he was arrested March 15, 1977. He was seized after allegations in the government newspaper Izvestia that he and other Jewish activists had been recruited by American diplomats to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.
His public accuser is Sanya Lipavsky, a physician who associated closely with the human rights activists. Lipavsky alleged in the Izvestia article, which was called a "confession," that he and others had been recruited by American diplomats to pass state information to the CIA.
In June 1977, Carter asserted that Scharansky "has never had any sort of relationship to our knowledge with the CIA." This spring, however, it was disclosed in Washington by authoritative sources, that Lipavsky himself had had contact with the intelligence agency as what was described as a "volunteer."
In the view of dissident legal experts here, this gravely damaged Scharansky's chances of proving his innocence, however slight they might have been initially in so politically charged a trial. In recent dissident trials, defense efforts have been stymied by adverse bench rulings and the defendants have been heckled by hand-picked official spectators.
The Scharansky, whose wife Natalya has traveled widely in the West seeking support, on his behalf, was denied permission to emigrate to Israel on the ground that he had access to state secrets. He thus became a so-called "refusednik" one of several thousand Jews in the Soviet Union denied exit visas.
He joined an unofficial group of human rights activists that was formed here in 1976 by Yuri Orlov to monitor Soviet compliance with the human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki accord on European security and co-operation.
The group issued more than two dozen reports, alleging abuse by the government of religious, personal and political freedoms. Scharansky, who speaks very good English, became a key figure in the group, important to explaining and translating the dissidents' actions to Western correspondents.
Of the original 12 members of the Helsinki group in Moscow, only one is still unscathed after the sharp Kremlin crackdown that began early last year. Orlov was convicted in May of anti-Soviet propaganda and sentenced to a maximum of seven years in prison and five of internal exile.
Ginzburg, 41, a Helsinki group member as well as administrator of a relief fund for political prisoners, faces up to 10 years in prison for the same charge because he has previous convictions. He is to be tried in Kaluga, about 80 miles south of Moscow.
By bringing both major dissident figures to trial the same week, the government, in the view of observers here, is trying to minimize the impact in the West of its actions. Yet the exact timing of these trials is seen to bear another message as well: That the Kremlin will pay no attention whatsoever to Carter's human rights campaign.