Exclusive: Russian hypersonic scientist accused of leaking secrets to China

  • Institute director accused of leaking secrets to China – source
  • He Pleads Not Guilty, Says Information Was Available Online – Sources
  • Three scientists arrested for treason, sparking outrage in academia

LONDON, May 24 (Reuters) – The head of Russia’s top scientific lab, along with two other hypersonic missile technology experts, has been arrested on charges of treason and charged with leaking secrets to China, sources said. , two people familiar with the incident told Reuters.

Alexander Sypluk, director of Siberia’s Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (ITAM), is suspected of handing over confidential material at a 2017 academic conference in China, sources said.

The 56-year-old man maintains his innocence and claims the information in question was unclassified and freely available online, according to people familiar with the matter, but Reuters will not disclose his personal information for security reasons. It is said that he decided to

“He is convinced of the fact that the information was not confidential and of his innocence,” said one of the sources.

The details of the allegations against the ITAM chief, who was arrested last August, have not been reported. With his Chinese ties, Siplk is the latest in a string of Russian scientists to be arrested in recent years on suspicion of leaking classified material to the Chinese government.

Asked about the accusations facing ITAM experts, as well as past cases of treason linked to China, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the security services could be linked to “betrayal of the fatherland”. said he was wary of

“This is a very important job,” he added. “It’s happening constantly and it’s almost impossible to talk about any trends here.”

The FSB Security Service did not respond to a request for comment.

Asked about allegations that the Chinese government targeted Russian scientists to obtain classified research, China’s foreign ministry said China-Russia relations were “non-aligned, non-confrontational and non-targeting of third parties.” said to be based on

“This is fundamentally different from what some military-intelligence coalitions have rallied on Cold War-era thinking,” he added.

President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said Russia is the world leader in hypersonic missiles. Hypersonic missiles are state-of-the-art weapons capable of penetrating air defense systems, carrying payloads at speeds ten times the maximum speed of sound.

ITAM’s lawsuits and previous treason arrests are a testament to the fact that Moscow’s government, including its ally China, has become increasingly dependent on political and trade support since it launched its invasion of Ukraine 15 months ago. It suggests that they are wary of losing their technological superiority.

Last year, a laser specialist Dmitry Kolker Arrested for treason in Siberia, died of cancer two days later. His lawyer, Alexander Fedorov, told Reuters last week that Kolker was accused of leaking secrets to China, an allegation denied by the scientist’s family.

Alexander Lukanin, a scientist from the Siberian city of Tomsk, was arrested in 2020 on suspicion of handing over technical secrets to Beijing, Russian state news agency TASS reported at the time. Last year he was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

Valery Mitko, a scientist who heads the Academy of Arctic Sciences in St. Petersburg, was also accused in 2020 of passing secrets to China, where he regularly travels to give lectures, TASS said at the time. He died two years later while under house arrest at the age of 81.

‘Very serious accusation’

Against the backdrop of the Ukraine war, Russia’s parliament voted last month to raise the maximum sentence for treason from 20 years to life in prison. On Tuesday, the head of the Russian Duma Security Committee said 48 Russians had been convicted of treason between 2017 and 2022, and backed a bill to strengthen access to state secrets.

The case facing Sipluk and his two ITAM colleagues – Anatoly Maslov and Valery Zvegintsev will be tried in secret and behind closed doors. Hearings in the case of Maslov, the first of three arrested last June, were scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

Zvegintsev was detained last month. Last week, the investigation into the three scientists made headlines around the world when ITAM colleagues signed it. open letter They supported them, complaining that scientists could not do their job if they risked being arrested for writing papers and presenting at international conferences.

The letter denied the idea that the three may have divulged any secrets, and said that all materials released or presented by the three were rigorously checked to ensure they were not classified. Stated.

Asked by reporters last week about the open letter, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said: “We have indeed seen the allegations, but Russian special services are working on this issue. They are doing their job. These It’s a very serious allegation,” he said.

Based at the Academy Gorodok Science Campus near the city of Novosibirsk, ITAM says on its website that it is registered as part of Russia’s military-industrial complex. According to a 2020 online document outlining its activities, the institute has extensive international connections, including contacts with companies, universities and research centers around the world.

Among the institutions listed is the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Center (CARDC), whose website posted a post celebrating its breakthrough in testing fighter planes and hypersonic missiles. Some included.

The CARDC website lists the director of the center as Wang Xunnian. Wang is a major general in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), according to two official Chinese local government websites.

A Reuters review of publicly available Chinese academic papers found that researchers at the center had co-authored dozens of papers in recent years with colleagues working at laboratories directly run by the People’s Liberation Army. became.

CARDC did not respond to email inquiries sent to the center and Wang, and Reuters was unable to reach Wang directly.

‘Shocked and terrified’

Reuters interviewed two U.S. scientists, one who knew Maslov and the other who knew Siplyuk. They said Russians are conscientious scholars, but their field of study is sensitive for military applications.

Stuart Lawrence, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland, said he met Siplk twice, including at a conference in Tours, France, in 2012, where Russian scientists presented their paper with Maslov. .

Lawrence, who last exchanged emails with Shipluk in January 2021, said he was “shocked and horrified to see him arrested. He was very well respected in his field.” .

In recent years, China has “caught up” with the United States and Russia on hypersonic technology, said George Nakuzi, a senior aerospace engineer at RAND Corporation.

He stressed that the three arrested Russians were involved in only one element of the work required to build the hypersonic missile, a process that would also include the integration of sensors, navigation systems and propulsion units. bottom.

“It’s a long way to go. You don’t get missiles just by doing basic research,” Nakuji said.

Additional reporting from Beijing by Eduardo Baptista and Ryan Woo. Written by Mark Trevelyan, who lives in London. Editing: Mike Collett-White and Pravin Char

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Mark Trevelyan

thomson Reuters

Main article on Russia and the CIS. He has worked as a journalist on seven continents, posting in London, Wellington, Brussels, Warsaw, Moscow and Berlin, reporting from more than 40 countries. He covers the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. From 2003 until 2008 he was Security Correspondent. He speaks French, Russian, (rustic) German and Polish.

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