Russian space official accused of passing state secrets to West

Former journalist Ivan Safronov could face up to 20 years in prison in treason case

Former journalist Ivan Safronov, detained on charges of treason for divulging state military secrets, stands inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Moscow on Tuesday. Photograph: Vasily Maximov/AFP

Former journalist Ivan Safronov, detained on charges of treason for divulging state military secrets, stands inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Moscow on Tuesday. Photograph: Vasily Maximov/AFP

 

Russian security services have opened a treason case against a former journalist who recently began working as an adviser to the head of the country’s space agency.

Ivan Safronov was arrested on Tuesday morning by agents from the FSB, the successor agency of the KGB. He could face up to 20 years in prison.

“Safronov, on the orders of the secret services of a Nato country, collected and transmitted information classified as state secrets about military co-operation, defence and security of the Russian Federation, ” said the FSB in a statement released to Russia’s Tass news agency.

Mr Safronov spent nearly a decade working for the business daily Kommersant, writing mainly about the Russian military, as well as on arms deals and the space industry. He also briefly worked in the Kremlin pool of journalists who accompany President Vladimir Putin on trips.

He was fired from Kommersant in May 2019 over a story about Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament. The paper’s entire political desk resigned in solidarity. He later moved to Vedomosti, one of the last remaining independent newspapers in Russia. He left after the appointment of a new acting editor-in-chief in April, which led to mass resignations from journalists who feared the new editor would bring censorship to the paper.

Questioned

In May, Mr Safronov took a job at Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, as a special adviser to the head of the organisation.

There was no immediate information about the kind of secrets Mr Safronov is accused of passing on. There were suggestions the case could be related to a Kommersant article about Russia selling Su-35 fighter jets to Egypt, co-written by Mr Safronov. It was published in March last year and deleted from the website shortly afterwards.

Russian media reported that Mr Safronov had been questioned by the FSB on numerous occasions, including in relation to the story.

Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the case was not related to Mr Safronov’s work as a journalist, while Roscosmos released a statement saying it was not related to his work there. Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roskosmos, said Mr Safronov had no access to state secrets in his work at the agency.

Over the past few years there has been a spate of treason cases brought in Russia, often against elderly scientists who say they were carrying out routine scientific work in collaboration with western colleagues. Treason trials are usually held in partial secrecy.

Arrest

The lawyer Sergei Badamshin, who has acted for defendants in a number of treason cases, said on Tuesday afternoon that the FSB was not allowing a lawyer to meet Mr Safronov, claiming they had no information about his whereabouts despite having put out a video of the arrest.

“It’s often a sign that there are problems with the case that could be identified by a lawyer. When they are confident, there’s no problem with the lawyers being present,” said Mr Badamshin.

Mr Safronov’s father, also called Ivan and also a Kommersant journalist, died in 2007 after falling from a window at the family home. He had been working on a story about military contracts with Iran and Syria before his death, according to colleagues. His colleagues suspected foul play at the time. The story was never published.

– Guardian