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Sharansky looks back on past, seeing just what KGB had on him

MOSCOW, Feb. 22 (JTA) — Natan Sharansky got a rare chance this week to review 20-year-old KGB documents relating to his activities on behalf of Russian Jewry. Heading a trade delegation on a two-day trip to Moscow, Sharansky, Israel’s minister of industry and trade, met Monday with Vladimir Putin, head of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB. During that meeting, Putin showed Sharansky his KGB dossier — some 52 volumes of documents — including papers relating to his arrest and conviction in 1977 on charges of spying for the United States. Putin gave some of the documents to Sharansky, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons as a result of his campaign for Jewish emigration rights in the Soviet Union during the 1970s. Sharansky later said he was impressed to see all the piles of documents — and the one piece of paper certifying that he was “rehabilitated” less than a decade ago, under then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Two years ago, during his first trip to Russia as a member of the Israeli Cabinet, Sharansky was denied access to the KGB documents. Sharansky said the documents contained “ so much grudge, so much bitterness.” But just the same, he found reason for optimism in the fact that this page of his personal history — and that of his native land — now belonged to the past. “Where today are all those investigators? Where is the KGB?” he said in a television interview. This was Sharansky’s third visit to Moscow since 1997, when he visited the Lefortovo Prison where he had spent 18 months in isolation. The official part of his latest visit focused on three issues: economic cooperation between Israel and Russia, Russia’s nuclear assistance to Iran, and the recent growth of Russian anti-Semitism. In a meeting Monday with Putin, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, Sharansky discussed Israeli concerns about the physical safety of the Russian Jewish community. Sharansky asked them whether they believed that recent anti-Semitic statements by members of the Russian Parliament could lead to pogroms. “They agreed that such a danger exists, at least purely theoretically,” Sharansky said later, adding that his Russian hosts had assured him that they were closely monitoring the situation. In another meeting Monday about Russia’s nuclear cooperation with Iran, Sharansky suggested that Israel and the West should attempt to get Russian scientists involved in international research projects so that Russian strategic interests would follow those of the West instead of Iran. On Sunday, Sharansky was greeted by some 500 members of the Moscow Jewish community, who packed the Moscow House of Cinema to see the former Prisoner of Zion. Thirteen years after his release from a Soviet gulag, many in the audience still viewed Sharansky as a hero. “He was among those people who made democracy in this country possible,” Sima Landau, a retired librarian, said, echoing the view of many here.