Sunday, 28 May 2023

Russia detains three hypersonic rocket scientists on treason charges

Russia detains three hypersonic rocket scientists as Kremlin is left reeling over claims ‘dagger’ missiles were shot down by Ukraine’s Patriot defence system

  • Dr Valery Zvegintsev, 78, is the latest of three prominent scientists to be arrested
  • All three face treason charges despite outcry from their scientific colleagues
  • It comes as Ukraine claimed it shot down several Russian hypersonic missiles

A trio of Vladimir Putin’s leading hypersonic scientists have been detained on suspicion of high treason in what fellow scientists have declared a ‘witch hunt’ 

Aerodynamics specialist Dr Valery Zvegintsev, 78, is the latest of three prominent scientists from the Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics in Novosibirsk to be arrested on extremely serious charges.

Zvegintsev, 78, along with Anatoly Maslov and Alexander Shiplyuk, are seen as key figures in the development of Russia’s hypersonic weapons programme which is thought to be one of the world’s most advanced.

News of their detention on suspicion of high treason comes days after a Russian missile assault on Ukraine’s capital was largely ineffective, with Ukrainian officials claiming their US-supplied Patriot air defence system managed to down several of Moscow’s Kinzhal – or ‘Dagger’ – hypersonic missiles, which Putin once boasted were ‘unstoppable’. 

And their institute has protested the arrests, claiming the men were being prosecuted over normal scientific activity such as making presentations and taking part in international conferences and projects, and publishing articles in major journals.

Leading Russian hypersonic scientist Dr Valery Zvegintsev, of the Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics in Novosibirsk, is detained under high treason laws

Anatoly Maslov and Alexander Shiplyuk, also of the institute, were detained last year

Explosion of a missile is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 16, 2023

Ukrainian air defence system is seen firing at oncoming missiles 

Launch of Russia’s Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in April 2022

Russia is ‘surprised and embarrassed’ that Ukraine has shot down its ‘unstoppable’ missiles 

Zvegintsev founded Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics’ laboratory of Aero Gas Dynamics which deals with hypersonic technologies, and until his detention was still working full time despite his advanced age.

His arrest in April, which has only just been revealed by the Kremlin, has triggered a backlash from fellow scientists who accused the FSB security service of a witch-hunt.

An open letter from the institute states: ‘Over the past year, three outstanding aerodynamic scientists of our institute – Anatoly Maslov, Alexander Shiplyuk and Valery Zvegintsev – were arrested on suspicion of committing a crime under the most severe article of the criminal code – ‘high treason’…

‘All of them are known for their brilliant scientific results.

‘Their competencies and professional reputation allowed them to find highly paid and prestigious jobs abroad.

‘But they did not leave their homeland, devoting their lives to serving Russian science.’

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was aware of the open letter from the Siberian scientists in defence of the three men but concluded the case was a matter for the security services and refused to comment further.

Ukraine claimed it managed to down several Kinzhal missiles earlier this week

Ukrainian air defence batteries are seen launching to intercept missiles over Kyiv earlier this week

Valery Zvegintsev is seen in these undated photos from the Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics in Novosibirsk

Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics in Novosibirsk

Russian MiG-31 is pictured carrying a hypersonic Kinzhal missile

Russia has pioneered hypersonic missiles, and is seen as having gained an advantage on Western missile arsenals.

The deployment of such missiles, like the famed Kinzhal, has been confirmed in Ukraine, though Moscow uses them sparingly.

Ukraine’s beefed-up air defence systems, which operate a mixture of Soviet era and Western-supplied technologies, have proven effective in downing many of Russia’s rocket attacks.

Zvegintsev’s detention comes months after the previous arrests of Maslov and Shiplyuk, both of whom are currently being held in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison.

Shiplyuk, 56, and Maslov, 76, were both detained in a pair of swoops conducted by Russia’s FSB domestic intelligence agency.

Another scientist and expert on laser physics, Dmitry Kolker, was previously jailed in Lefortovo despite having stage four cancer and died in custody last year.

An earlier open letter from the institute in Novosibirsk condemned the arrests of Shiplyuk and Maslov, arguing such a crackdown would only serve to drive out young Russian scientists out of the profession.

‘What we are rewarded for today and set as an example to others, tomorrow becomes the reason for criminal prosecution.

‘In this situation, it is simply impossible for our institute, the only academic organisation in the country with an extensive base for experimental and numerical aerodynamic research, to work.’

Alexander Shiplyuk (right) is pictured at a conference in China in 2018. He was arrested last year on suspicion of treason

Russia’s Kinzhal missile is seen being carried by a MiG fast jet

Another notable individual currently detained at Lefortovo is US citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, 31, who was arrested in March for alleged espionage for which he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Gershkovich is the first Moscow Correspondent from the US to be detained by Russia on spying charges since the Cold War.

His family and the newspaper vehemently deny that he was seeking to obtain classified information.

‘The FSB and Putin are seeing enemies everywhere,’ said a former Moscow diplomat.

Separately, rights group OVD-Info says nearly 20,000 people have been detained for opposing the war.

Hundreds, including children, have faced criminal charges.

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