Are Kremlin’s spies targeting Russian scientists with foreign links?

Igor SutyaginBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Back in November, we reported on the case of Valentin Danilov, a Russian physicist who spent nearly a decade in prison, allegedly for spying on his country on behalf of China. What is interesting about Danilov is that, even after his release from prison, following a pardon issued by the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he fervently maintains his innocence. He is not alone; many Russian scientists and human rights campaigners have argued for years that Danilov should never have been convicted. In some cases, activists accuse the Kremlin of persecuting Danilov for political reasons, namely to reinforce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “attempts to intimidate academics with ties to other countries”. A well-written analysis by Time magazine’s Simon Shuster argues that Danilov’s story is not unique in Russia. There have been at least a handful of similar cases in the last decade, all involving Russian scientists with links to foreign countries or organizations. Shuster mentions the example of nuclear expert Igor Sutyagin, former division head in the Russian Academy of Sciences’ USA and Canada Institute, who served 11 years of a 15-year sentence for allegedly passing state secrets to a CIA front company. Sutyagin, who now lives in London, United Kingdom, was one of four jailed Russians expelled to the West in exchange for the repatriation of ten Russian illegals captured by the FBI in the summer of 2010. But he maintains he was never a spy, and claims that all of the information he gave to the two Americans who employed him, in return for money, came from open sources. Undoubtedly, observers are free to draw different conclusions about either Danilov or Sutyagin. But the question that Shuster poses is, at a time when virtually no field of scientific research can develop without international collaboration, is Moscow being overly suspicious of its academics, and is this hampering Russian science as a whole? He reminds his readers that the Russian government enacted a law last month that permits treason charges to be leveled against academics “if they so much as consult with foreigners on their research”. It is worth noting that the new law does not even require offenders to have access to classified material. Shuster spoke to the authors of a recently published report by the Russian Association for the Advancement of Science, which said that the current state of Russia’s scientific institutions is “catastrophic”. One of the authors, Denis Andreyuk, told Time that the pressure from Russia’s “spy-chasers” on the academic community has become “like a yoke” for Russian scientists, who can’t “put out the fire that’s burning”. But, he adds with emphasis: “it’s too late. The house has burned down”.

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