Longtime Russian defence journalist and more recent government advisor on space issues, Ivan Safronov has been arrested in Moscow and charged with treason, according to a new report from the Moscow Times. Safronov faces 20 years in prison and the trial will reportedly be conducted behind closed doors.
The 30-year-old Safronov, who was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), allegedly shared secret intelligence with an unnamed country in NATO, the alliance of western capitalist countries formed during the first Cold War to oppose the Soviet Union. NATO still exists, despite President Donald Trump constantly besmirching the treaty and cozying up with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Ruptly captured footage of the arrest, which shows Safronov being taken into custody by armed men wearing masks and gloves. Russia, like the U.S. and Brazil, has seen a poorly managed response to the covid-19 pandemic, with over 690,000 infections and more than 10,000 deaths.
Previously, Safronov spent a decade as a journalist before giving that up in the face of government censorship to pursue a career in the space industry advising Dmitry Rogozin, the Director General of Russia’s Roscosmos. Safronov didn’t have access to classified information during his relatively short two months on the job at Roscosmos, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
“Roscosmos clarified that the arrest is not linked to his current duties as Roscosmos advisor,” TASS said in a report from Tuesday.
Safronov’s former colleagues at the newspaper Kommersant believe he’d never give secrets to foreign adversaries and that his arrest likely has something to do with displeasing the Kremlin, according to the Moscow Times.
President Putin, who recently won the right to serve until 2036 in his current role, has clamped down on dissent during his reign and many journalists in the country have died under suspicious circumstances. Seventy-eight per cent of voters in Russia want Putin to be able to serve after his six-year term expires in 2024, based on the referendum that was held late last month.
Safronov’s friends and old colleagues reportedly gathered outside an FSB building in Moscow on Tuesday to protest his imprisonment, though at least one person — a journalist named Yelena Chernenko — has been detained during that demonstration, based on multiple reports from social media. Chernenko works at the Kommersant, another news outlet where Safronov was formerly employed.
The FSB investigation into Safronov’s alleged treason is ongoing, according to TASS, and it’s not clear when his trial might begin.