'We can no longer do our job', say Russian missile scientists following arrests for treason
Russian hypersonic missile scientists have warned the Kremlin that their research could collapse after security services detained their colleagues for treason.
The scientists told the Russian government they cannot continue with their work unless the FSB stops arresting researchers at their Siberian institute.
The rare act of protest, which came in an open letter, raises further questions over Russia’s ability to develop the hi-tech weaponry it needs for its war in Ukraine.
It comes as some of Russia's most vaunted hypersonic missiles have failed to live up to expectations on the battlefield, with Ukraine shooting down at least half a dozen "unstoppable" Kinzhal missiles in recent weeks.
Three leading scientists working on Russia’s hypersonic missile programme in Siberia have been jailed and charged with treason in the past 10 months.
Researchers from the Novosibirsk-based Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics warned that the arrests were damaging research into hypersonic technology.
Russian scientists warn of 'impending collapse'
In the open letter published on the institute’s website, the scientists urged the government and the Russian public to “defend Russia’s aerodynamics research and save the decades worth of work of Soviet and Russian scientists from the impending collapse”.
Anatoly Maslov, a 76-year old physicist specialising in aerodynamics, and Alexander Shiplyuk, the 56-year old head of Novosibirsk’s hypersonic missile technology lab, were arrested one month apart last summer and have been in jail since. A third aerodynamics scientist, Valery Zvegintsev, was detained last month. The arrest of Mr Zvegintsev was not previously reported.
Their colleagues described them as “brilliant scientists” whose “competences and professional reputation would allow them to find well-paid and prestigious jobs abroad” if they wanted to.
“We know each of them as a patriot and a decent person incapable of committing what they are being suspected of,” the letter said.
The scientists also shed light on the plight of Novosibirsk-based physicist Dmitry Kolker, who died in jail last summer two days after he was arrested on treason charges. His arrest came as he was fighting for his life in hospital with stage four pancreatic cancer.
A Kremlin spokesman said on Wednesday he was aware of the scientists’ appeal but insisted that the president trusts Russian law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting those cases.
Well before the invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin bragged about Russia’s hypersonic missiles as a major deterrent that makes his army invincible.
Some of those missiles are still in development or testing stages but one of them, the Kinzhal, has been used on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Despite Putin’s claims it was unstoppable, Ukraine’s air defence systems, many donated by the West, have been shooting the Kinzhals down since March.
The other Russian hypersonic missiles, the Avangard and the Zircon, have not been identified in Ukraine yet.
The FSB intelligence agency that handles treason cases routinely classifies all case files.
The Siberian scientists said in their letter they were unaware of the details of the charges against the three men but they knew from “open sources” that their colleagues are being punished for speaking at a conference abroad, taking part in international projects and publishing articles in top scientific magazines - routine work for which “they could spend the rest of their lives behind bars”.
An unnamed official in the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday that the scientist was detained three weeks earlier and has been under house arrest since.
The unnamed official said the man was allegedly detained for publishing an article “in a foreign scientific publication”.
Russian law enforcement agencies have not commented on the case.
'We do not understand how to do our job'
The scientists have warned that the flurry of arrests could destroy their areas of research as the FSB-led witch hunt is already spooking young scientists.
“We’re not only scared for our colleagues: we simply do not understand how to do our job any more,” the letter said, adding that they fear “any article or report can now trigger treason charges”.
“The best students are already refusing to work with us while our best young employees are leaving scientific research.”
The number of treason cases in Russia increased rapidly well before the invasion of Ukraine as the FSB was eager to emphasise their work uncovering foreign spies while Putin and the Russian leadership spoke of the West trying to undermine Russia.
In the first four months of this year , investigators in Russia opened at least 20 criminal cases of treason, which is as many as for all of 2022.
A Moscow court on Tuesday received the fifth filing for the arrest of a treason suspect this month. There is no public information about the nature of those cases.
Putin last month signed legal amendments that increase the potential penalty for treason from 20 years in jail to a life sentence.
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