A Russian scientist has been charged with high treason over allegations he passed classified information to China.
Valery Mitko, the president of the St. Petersburg-based Arctic Academy, was charged on Monday. Mitko’s lawyer, Ivan Pavlov said in comments reported by The Moscow Times, that Mitko has been under house arrest since February, as Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) investigated his case.
The charges allege Mitko, 78, took classified information with him during business trips to China. That classified information reportedly included information about methods for detecting submarines. Mitko is accused of agreeing to collect and transfer the classified information to Chinese intelligence services. Mitko’s house arrest order claims he acted out of “selfish interest” in carrying out the alleged plot.
Mitko’s house arrest was reportedly extended in a June 5 hearing and is currently set to last until October 10.
Pavlov said Mitko had regularly traveled to China for teaching and maintains his client only brought materials with him that “exclusively related to his scientific and teaching activities,” according to comments reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Mitko began taking teaching trips twice yearly to Dalian Maritime University in China, beginning in 2016.
“There were no state secrets in there at all. We consider these accusations to be absurd,” Pavlov said of the charges.
Other scientists in Russia have also been charged with treason in recent years. Vladimir Lapygin, 79, a Russian space researcher was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2016 on charges he passed classified information to China. A Russian court recently granted Lapygin early release.
Lapygin, like Mitko, has maintained his innocence. Critics of the pattern of Russian treason charges have claimed the charges stem from paranoia.
Pavlov said he hopes Mitko’s case will be dismissed before trial.
Russia and China have been similarly aligned in some geopolitical matters. Russia has helped China develop its missile defense system. Reports have also emerged that Russia and China have coordinated similar propaganda campaigns regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
The recent charges against Mitko suggest Russia still maintains a degree of skepticism about its ties with Russia.
The revelation of the charges against Mitko also come after Russia sentenced a former U.S. Marine, Paul Whelan, to 16 years in a high-security prison facility, on allegations he received classified Russian information during a visit to Moscow for a friend’s wedding. In Whelan’s case, Russian authorities raided his hotel room and found a flash drive that they said contained classified information.
The U.S. State Department has denounced Whelan’s prosecution, arguing that his trial proceeded behind closed doors and without clear evidence establishing his guilt.