Russian space official arrested for treason

A spokesman for the head of the Russian space agency has been arrested for treason, the agency says.

Roskosmos said in a statement (in Russian) that former journalist Ivan Safronov’s arrest was not linked to his current job there.

Russian security service the FSB said he was suspected of espionage for a Nato country, Ria news agency said.

Safronov used to be a military reporter at the business dailies Kommersant and Vedomosti.

He joined Roskosmos as information adviser to director general Dmitry Rogozin in the middle of May.

The space agency said it was helping investigators with their inquiries.

The former journalist faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

Ria quoted an FSB statement as saying Safronov was believed to have been working for the security services of an unspecified Nato country.

“He gathered and passed to its representative classified information about military-technical co-operation, defence and security of the Russian Federation,” it said.

Interfax news agency quoted an FSB source as saying Safronov’s arrest was most likely linked to his work as a military reporter.

He was called in for questioning by the FSB a year ago but there was no suggestion of criminal charges at the time, the source added.

However, in June 2019, court proceedings were held over the alleged disclosure by Kommersant of information constituting a state secret.

The information reportedly had to do with an article co-authored by Safronov about Russia’s deliveries of Su-35 fighter aircraft to Egypt. The report was later removed from the Kommersant website.

By the time of the court case, Safronov had been sacked from the newspaper for an article he worked on suggesting that Russian upper house speaker Valentina Matviyenko was about to leave her post.

The entire politics desk of the paper resigned in protest at the dismissal.

Safronov’s father, also named Ivan, was a well-known military commentator at Kommersant.

He died after falling from the fifth floor of a Moscow apartment building in 2007.

Ivan Safronov senior had been investigating claims of planned Russian arms sales to Syria and Iran at the time of his death, Kommersant said.