Hypersound silence. How scientists become the prey of the FSB

Three physi­cists were arrest­ed in so called “Novosibirsk case”. It wasn’t the first time. Previously, four sci­en­tists were also accused of trea­son in dif­fer­ent years. All of the sci­en­tists accused in all these cas­es par­tic­i­pat­ed in the projects of the sev­enth frame­work pro­gram of the European Union “TransHyBerian” (coor­di­na­tor — Von Karman Institute of Hydrodynamics, Belgium). However, the inter­locu­tors and sources of T-invari­ant sug­gest that the con­tacts of sci­en­tists with China and Iran are only an excuse, not the rea­son for the arrests.

In less than a year at the Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (ITAM) three employ­ees were accused of trea­son. On April 7, 2023, Chief Researcher Valery Zvegintsev was arrest­ed. In 2001, he found­ed and head­ed the lab­o­ra­to­ry “Aerogas dynam­ics of high speeds” at the insti­tute. In 2006, Alexander Shiplyuk, the future direc­tor of ITAM, became the head of this lab­o­ra­to­ry. Shiplyuk was arrest­ed in August 2022. Shortly before this, in June 2022, Alexander Maslov was arrest­ed. He was the chief researcher of ITAM and for more than twen­ty years had been work­ing as the deputy direc­tor of the insti­tute for sci­en­tif­ic work; Maslov was in charge of the aero­dy­nam­ic direc­tion. All three were co-authors of papers for many years at dif­fer­ent times — the fact which can be con­firmed by a sim­ple search in open data­bas­es of sci­en­tif­ic arti­cles. Do these arrests mean that oth­er sci­en­tists who are also their co-authors are under a threat of arrest? This issue is being seri­ous­ly dis­cussed among the staff of the Institute.

A collective state treason 

On the day Valery Ivanovich (Zvegintsev – ed.) was arrest­ed, I was not at the Institute, my col­leagues told me,” says an ITAM employ­ee, “the next day I saw that a search was con­duct­ed at his work­place. It shocked me so much, that I could not work for a long time. We all under­stand that this can hap­pen to any­one now. Employees who are close to “closed” top­ics are in com­plete apa­thy and try to leave such projects. Especially young peo­ple can­not with­stand moral pres­sure, some have already quit.”

Formally, three sci­en­tists were charged under arti­cle 275 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation with trea­son for dis­clos­ing secret infor­ma­tion in speech­es at con­fer­ences and pub­li­ca­tions in China and Iran at dif­fer­ent times. But none of the inter­locu­tors believes in the seri­ous­ness of this accu­sa­tion. No one says, what is the real rea­son for the arrest of ITAM sci­en­tists. Neither lawyers, nor rel­a­tives, nor col­leagues. Some refer to them not hav­ing any right to dis­close. Others to the fact that any pub­lic infor­ma­tion will now harm those arrest­ed. Others to their own ignorance.

What points to the fact that the con­tacts with China and Iran were just the use­ful occa­sion, not the real reason?

First, in recent years, China and Iran have offi­cial­ly become friend­ly states, with which the coun­try’s lead­er­ship is call­ing on Russian sci­en­tists to coop­er­ate. Secondly, the speech­es and pub­li­ca­tions in ques­tion were already made at the time when any exter­nal con­tacts of physi­cists were under strict con­trol and had being passed through the approval of two insti­tute expert commissions.

Back in 2019, I told our direc­tor Shiplyuk,” an employ­ee of the insti­tute recalls, “that I would go to a pop­u­lar sci­ence fes­ti­val in the for­mer repub­lic of the USSR to give a lec­ture that was not relat­ed to the sub­ject of our insti­tute. But A.N. asked me to get an expert opin­ion on my report any­way. I was sur­prised at the time by his per­sis­tence. I not­ed how he strict­ly fol­lowed any our exter­nal per­for­mances, even when it came to the near abroad.

However, despite the arrests of three key per­son­nel, these expert com­mis­sions were not dis­solved or reor­ga­nized due to the fact that they had giv­en approval of reports or pub­li­ca­tions of clas­si­fied mate­ri­als. Although, it would seem that in this case mem­bers of the com­mis­sions should be arrest­ed. Thirdly, in 2019, the head of the SB RAS, Valentin Parmon, got as a deputy lieu­tenant gen­er­al of the FSB Sergey Staritsyn, whose area of respon­si­bil­i­ty includes rela­tions with gov­ern­ment agen­cies, includ­ing spe­cial ser­vices. This means that Lieutenant-General Staritsyn specif­i­cal­ly does not con­trol the activ­i­ties of expert com­mis­sions, which, in turn, give per­mis­sion for exter­nal pub­li­ca­tions and reports of sci­en­tists from Novosibirsk not in a suf­fi­cient­ly qual­i­fied manner.

We do not see any inten­sive activ­i­ty on the part of the Academy,” the staff of the insti­tute con­tin­ue, “it is believed that there was no com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the lead­er­ship of the SB RAS and the Novosibirsk FSB that could help us.

In addi­tion, the vio­la­tions imput­ed to sci­en­tists fall under Article 283.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (vio­la­tion of the require­ments for the pro­tec­tion of state secrets), which may hap­pen due to neg­li­gence as well. Treason also implies the delib­er­ate trans­fer of secret infor­ma­tion. Would it be the case, the “accom­plices” after the arrest of the first “trai­tor” should have left the coun­try imme­di­ate­ly. This is anoth­er rea­son for the depres­sion of ITAM sci­en­tists: in order not to divulge state secrets, one can and must strict­ly obey the reg­u­la­tions, and it is not clear how to defend one­self from charges of trea­son if the same per­son par­tic­i­pates in “closed” works and open inter­na­tion­al projects at the same time. All three arrest­ed per­sons were such employees.

“Kinzhal” in the back

First time, a ver­sion, which con­nect­ed sci­en­tist study­ing hyper­son­ic tech­nolo­gies with the use of these tech­nolo­gies was voiced by jour­nal­ists in June of 2018. They were espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in the “Avangard” and “Kinzhal” (“Kinzhal” lit­er­al­ly means ‘a dag­ger’) mis­sile sys­tems. (The authors of this note weren’t iden­ti­fied, most like­ly their names were the col­lec­tive pseu­do­nym of the duty edi­tors of the “Kommersant” Publishing House). First time the guess about this con­nec­tion occurred in con­nec­tion with the accu­sa­tion of trea­son against Victor Kudryavtsev, a sci­en­tist from the Central Research Institute for Machine Building (TSNIIMASH).
By the time of his arrest, he had not had access to secret work for more than ten years. These events revolve around his coop­er­a­tion in the TransHyBerian project of the Seventh Framework Program of the European Union.

Victor Kudryavtsev was the coor­di­na­tor of this project from his insti­tute. The project had been car­ried out from 2011 to 2013. Another par­tic­i­pant in the project was the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute named after Professor N. E. Zhukovsky (Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute, CAI), in which Anatoly Gubanov, arrest­ed in December 2020, and Valery Golubkin, arrest­ed in April 2021, used to work. The third par­tic­i­pant of this inter­na­tion­al project from the Russian side was the ITAM (Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics SB RAS). Alexander Maslov was the appoint­ed coor­di­na­tor from the Novosibirsk Institute. Maslov was arrest­ed on June 28, 2022, and two days lat­er, on June 30, Dmitry Kolker, a researcher at the Institute of Laser Physics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Novosibirsk State University, was arrest­ed under the same arti­cle in Novosibirsk (he died on July 2, 2022 from can­cer in a pre-tri­al deten­tion center).

Kolker does not have any com­mon sci­en­tif­ic papers with physi­cists from the ITAM in the pub­lic domain. Kolker’s lat­est sci­en­tif­ic work was not relat­ed to hyper­son­ic top­ics. However, Kolker had anoth­er affil­i­a­tion with the orga­ni­za­tion in which he worked — LLC “Special Technologies”, whose main activ­i­ty is, in par­tic­u­lar, “the cre­ation of mid-IR laser sources for guid­ance and coun­ter­mea­sure sys­tems.” This affil­i­a­tion is indi­cat­ed in the pub­li­ca­tion of Dmitry Kolker in 2012, just at the time when work on the project in the EU frame­work pro­gram was in progress. There is no infor­ma­tion about whether Kolker’s work of that peri­od inter­sect­ed with the work of col­leagues from ITAM, but the fact that they were wor­ried about the issues of increas­ing the fre­quen­cy of lasers in hyper­son­ic exper­i­ments can be seen from pub­li­ca­tions of the same time.

Is it pos­si­ble to assume that all those arrest­ed and asso­ci­at­ed with par­tic­i­pa­tion in this EU project, as well as Dmitry Kolker, are involved in the devel­op­ment of the “Kinzhal”? “Almost unbe­liev­able,” says one of the mem­bers of an expert com­mis­sion sim­i­lar to those who give access to exter­nal pub­li­ca­tions of ITAM, “if this were the case, they would have a dif­fer­ent lev­el of secre­cy, they would not have such free inter­na­tion­al con­tacts and open pub­li­ca­tions. Most like­ly they fell into the “dual-use tech­nol­o­gy trap”. This hap­pens when sci­en­tists with access to clas­si­fied top­ics come to the atten­tion of law enforce­ment agen­cies, because law enforcers find ref­er­ences to their open work in a data obtained from clas­si­fied sources, for exam­ple, from spe­cial reports.

This is indi­rect­ly con­firmed by one of the sci­en­tists who was present at the tri­al to extend the pre­ven­tive mea­sure for Viktor Kudryavtsev in 2018. Due to a pro­ce­dur­al inci­dent, the lawyers then for­got to request a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment for the mate­ri­als of the inves­ti­ga­tion, and after the meet­ing they said that the inves­ti­ga­tors had a “jok­er” in the form of oper­a­tional infor­ma­tion pre­pared by a high-rank­ing intel­li­gence offi­cer. It looked like the secret ser­vices dis­cov­ered a leak of clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion and linked it to sci­en­tists who were con­duct­ing research on hyper­sound. In June 2019, Kudryavtsev’s stu­dent Roman Kovalev was detained in the same case. In September 2019, Kudryavtsev’s case was sus­pend­ed, the defen­dant was released due to a seri­ous health con­di­tion (he died of can­cer in April 2021). And Kovalev plead­ed guilty, was con­vict­ed and in 2022, was released also in con­nec­tion with an onco­log­i­cal dis­ease (he died in April 2022).

The absence of qual­i­fied unbi­ased exper­tise at the stage of inves­ti­ga­tion made it impos­si­ble either to refute the “pic­ture of the world” that had devel­oped in the head of the FSB offi­cers, or to pre­dict their fur­ther actions.

Perhaps this explains so many coin­ci­dences and con­tra­dic­tions in the “hyper­son­ic case”. None of those arrest­ed since 2016 to 2023 tried to hide. People did­n’t feel guilty. But the secu­ri­ty forces stub­born­ly searched for those who could be blamed for the leaks (or what they took for leaks) relat­ed to hyper­son­ic developments.

Back in 2016, the head of Viktor Kudryavtsev from TSNIIMASH, Vladimir Lapygin, was accused of trea­son for trans­fer­ring to China “a soft­ware pack­age that allows cal­cu­lat­ing the opti­mal aero­dy­nam­ic char­ac­ter­is­tics of hyper­son­ic air­craft con­tain­ing infor­ma­tion con­sti­tut­ing a state secret.” According to the pros­e­cu­tion, the trans­fer of this infor­ma­tion took place in 2011, just at the time when hyper­son­ic exper­i­ments began under the projects of the EU frame­work program.

79-year-old Lapygin was released four years lat­er on parole. Prior to this, President Putin twice denied him a par­don. While serv­ing his sen­tence, Lapygin was vis­it­ed by the inves­ti­ga­tor of the first depart­ment of the FSB Investigation Department Alexander Chaban (future inves­ti­ga­tor in the trea­son case against jour­nal­ist Ivan Safronov). Thus, the inves­ti­ga­tion relied on some infor­ma­tion about the leak, but what exact­ly was tak­en for a leak of infor­ma­tion, how open research on hyper­sound in joint projects with the European Union is con­nect­ed with it, could only be estab­lished by an inde­pen­dent exam­i­na­tion, an objec­tive inves­ti­ga­tion and an impar­tial court. The chances of find­ing such a com­bi­na­tion in the Russian law enforce­ment sys­tem are zero, since there were no acquit­tals in any of the cas­es men­tioned above. All process­es were held behind closed doors.

As a result, a para­dox­i­cal sit­u­a­tion evolved. Relatives, whose only hope is pub­lic­i­ty, are silent so as not to harm those who are already in Lefortovo. The insti­tute staff, on the con­trary, in an open let­ter appeal “to the author­i­ties of the Russian Federation, col­lec­tives of sci­en­tif­ic and indus­tri­al orga­ni­za­tions, the pro­fes­sion­al sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty, as well as to all car­ing cit­i­zens of our coun­try with a request to pro­tect Russian aero­dy­nam­ic sci­ence” in order to save those who has not yet been sent to “Lefortovo”.

There were no respons­es from author­i­ties, teams and com­mu­ni­ties to this let­ter, despite the fact that the let­ter was pub­lished on the eve of the General Meeting of the Russian Academy of Sciences. On May 23, Valentin Parmon, head of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, deliv­ered the report “On the results of the activ­i­ties of the Siberian Branch”, in which he described the work of the branch in the direc­tion of achiev­ing tech­no­log­i­cal sov­er­eign­ty by Russia and cit­ed devel­op­ments in the fields of math­e­mat­ics, physics, and ener­gy as an exam­ple. The names of the arrest­ed Siberian physi­cists were not men­tioned in the report. Just as they were not men­tioned in the report of the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Gennady Krasnikov, who not­ed in his speech: “We are close­ly fol­low­ing every accu­sa­tion made against the Academy, mem­bers of the Academy and lead­ing sci­en­tists. We have cre­at­ed a spe­cial con­sul­ta­tion mech­a­nism in which lead­ing aca­d­e­m­ic lawyers and legal schol­ars work to pro­vide mem­bers of the Academy with legal pro­tec­tion. I note that all cas­es are dif­fer­ent, but we try to con­sid­er each of them com­pre­hen­sive­ly, to under­stand the essence of what is hap­pen­ing, to pro­vide sup­port where nec­es­sary. And, of course, we are in con­stant con­tact with law enforce­ment agen­cies.”

And the speech of the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences began with the words that “the events tak­ing place in the coun­try open up new oppor­tu­ni­ties for sci­en­tists”. Evidently, these “new oppor­tu­ni­ties” have forced employ­ees of the ITAM write an open letter.

The interview with the attorney Ivan Pavlov

T-invari­ant asked Ivan Pavlov, attor­ney and the cre­ator of advo­ca­cy project “First depart­ment”, why sci­en­tist are (now) the most vul­ner­a­ble group for law-enforc­ing agencies

T-i: What are the typ­i­cal sto­ries that result in sci­en­tists being pros­e­cut­ed for treason?

IP: There are four forms of state trea­son. Two clas­sic ones: espi­onage and the issuance of state secrets. According to them, sci­en­tists are pros­e­cut­ed. There is also the pro­vi­sion of assis­tance to a for­eign state in activ­i­ties direct­ed against the secu­ri­ty of Russia - for this sci­en­tists have nev­er been pros­e­cut­ed, until 2022 this word­ing was nev­er used, it first appeared in the Kara-Murza case. Another form of trea­son appeared in 2022: going over to the side of the ene­my. Scientists were not under inves­ti­ga­tion for this either. An accu­sa­tion of espi­onage is used if a per­son does not have access to state secrets. The issuance of state secrets is the trans­fer of secrets entrust­ed to a per­son by virtue of his work. Scientists are at risk if they come into con­tact with sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion and have inter­na­tion­al con­tacts. For high trea­son, they pros­e­cute sci­en­tists who par­tic­i­pat­ed in inter­na­tion­al projects, albeit approved in all instances. Even approvals at the gov­ern­ment lev­el do not stop the Chekists from recon­sid­er­ing their atti­tude towards past sci­en­tif­ic projects, they bring charges of trea­son against sci­en­tist on the basis of tak­ing part in such projects. In some instances crim­i­nal cas­es were ini­ti­at­ed for a lec­ture at a for­eign uni­ver­si­ty, for talks, reports on projects for for­eign partners.

T-i: There are tens of thou­sands Russian sci­en­tists who had inter­na­tion­al con­tacts. In 2020, Novaya Gazeta wrote about thir­ty crim­i­nal cas­es for trea­son against sci­en­tists. What is the prin­ci­ple behind these crim­i­nal cas­es? Who was noticed by acci­dent? Who is a con­ve­nient victim?

IP: It real­ly is the per­fect storm here. It is impor­tant that sci­en­tists are easy prey for the FSB. Usually these are old peo­ple of the Soviet tem­per, whom it is easy for the Chekists to break. It should be not­ed that the capac­i­ty of the FSB inves­ti­ga­tors is not so large. Cases of trea­son car­ry weight for the FSB. Due to them, there is a career growth of all those who were involved in them. Several sci­en­tists are pros­e­cut­ed every year.

T-i: How are these few sci­en­tists pulled out of the mass of cas­es of con­tact with for­eign­ers and writ­ing reports?

IP: Each such case is quite labo­ri­ous, mate­ri­als are col­lect­ed for sev­er­al years. Chekists are pedan­tic peo­ple. Until a file is filled up with doc­u­ments, the gen­er­al will not give a sanc­tion for deten­tion. As a result, there are few inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic projects now, Russia is becom­ing a closed coun­try, sci­en­tists are afraid to con­tact for­eign col­leagues. The Chekists man­aged to close Russian sci­ence from exter­nal contacts.

T-i: Was it the task of the law-enforce­ment agen­cies to achieve exact­ly this?

IP: Probably, no one for­mal­ly ver­bal­ized this task, but at the exe­cu­tion lev­el it was under­stood in exact­ly this way. From the expe­ri­ence of my con­ver­sa­tions with the FSB inves­ti­ga­tors, they think this way: if a sci­en­tist has inter­na­tion­al con­tacts, he is a poten­tial ene­my, he should be sur­veilled. For a lec­ture giv­en abroad - a sen­tence. They have had this under­stand­ing of nation­al secu­ri­ty for a long time.

T-i: There is an opin­ion among sci­en­tists that con­tacts with the Chinese are espe­cial­ly dangerous.

IP: Yes, China is a coun­try that sci­en­tists like to be accused of spy­ing for. Have in mind the fact that in inter­na­tion­al con­tacts sci­en­tists are only execu­tors, deci­sions regard­ing the trans­fer of infor­ma­tion with­in the frame­work of some projects are made by their insti­tu­tions. In every crim­i­nal case that I dealt with, the sci­en­tists com­plied with all the require­ments, but that didn’t stop the FSB. For the FSB, the dis­clo­sure of a case is not a court ver­dict, but the deten­tion of a “spy”. We are not talk­ing about any pre­ven­tive mea­sures: the FSB can detain a per­son imme­di­ate­ly after the trans­fer of infor­ma­tion to for­eign­ers. If they were con­cerned about state secu­ri­ty, I think they would not allow such infor­ma­tion to be transmitted.

T-i: Are sci­en­tists detained for state trea­son gen­er­al­ly loy­al to the state?

IP: Yes. The first oppo­si­tion­ist who fell under this arti­cle was Kara-Murza. All the past accused of trea­son had noth­ing to do with oppo­si­tion activities.

T-i: And how do the FSB offi­cers con­vince such sci­en­tists dur­ing inter­ro­ga­tions that they (sci­en­tists) have com­mit­ted treason?

IP: Brutally. Break their morals. They say: that’s it, you you’re in a deep trou­ble. The term is from 12 to 20. If you rock the boat, you will get clos­er to 20. If you behave well, maybe we will give you low­er than the lowest.

T-i: Did the war with Ukraine increase the num­ber of per­se­cu­tions of sci­en­tists for a state treason?

IP: No. Now there is an out­break of trea­son cas­es, but it is not about sci­en­tists. There are many cas­es against young peo­ple for pro­vid­ing assis­tance or for alleged­ly want­i­ng to fight on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

T-i: Did the lead­er­ship of the Academy of Sciences try to defend sci­en­tists per­se­cut­ed for treason?

IP: There were timid attempts, but they were imme­di­ate­ly stopped. In gen­er­al, I know lit­tle about the activ­i­ty of the RAS. But there were inter­views with the for­mer head of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeev, in which he spoke out in sup­port of sci­en­tists involved in treason.

T-i: For the entire exis­tence of the arti­cle on trea­son, there was only one case when the accused was freed from the charge.

IP: Alexander Nikitin was acquit­ted in 1999. In the case of Svetlana Davydova, the case was closed at the inves­ti­ga­tion stage. The case of sailor Minakov was also stopped. The case of the physi­cist Kudryavtsev was sus­pend­ed due to ill­ness. We dragged out Mitko’s case and did­n’t let them pass the ver­dict. He was under house arrest and died at home.

T-i: In the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, this is what can be done to help.

IP: Sort of like pal­lia­tive care. But it is obvi­ous­ly bet­ter to die at home than behind bars.

T-i: The arrest of Zvegintsev is already the eighth arrest since 2016 among employ­ees of sci­en­tif­ic orga­ni­za­tions in one way or anoth­er con­nect­ed with hyper­son­ic and air­craft —TSNIIMASH, Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (CAI), ITAM, Institute of Laser Physics SB RAS. Employees of these insti­tu­tions — Vladimir Lapygin, Viktor Kudryavtsev, Roman Kovalev, Anatoly Gubanov, Valery Golubkin, Dmitry Kolker, Anatoly Maslov, Alexander Shiplyuk, Evgeny Zvegintsev — were arrest­ed from 2016 to 2023. Is there an expla­na­tion for this?

IP: Putin once blurt­ed out that Russia has promis­ing devel­op­ments in the field of hyper­sound that need to be pro­tect­ed. Here they took it under the visor. FSB offi­cers are oppor­tunists. In fact, they pro­tect noth­ing and no one, but sim­ply destroy scientists.

T-i: Do you have any idea why Zvegintsev was sent under house arrest, and not in a pre-tri­al deten­tion center?

IP: Maybe Kolker’s death had some effect. Sometimes there are cas­es when they are ashamed to take old sci­en­tists into cus­tody. But house arrest is not a sana­to­ri­um either. A bunch of restric­tions, you have to walk with a bracelet. I had a case when a per­son spent three years in an apart­ment with­out walk­ing. If there is no bal­cony, you have to sit by the open win­dow to get some fresh air.

T-i: Relatives of the arrest­ed Novosibirsk sci­en­tists do not con­tact the press.

IP: Afraid. Now, in any case, they are afraid of pub­lic­i­ty. And the lawyers are scared too.

T-i: Is pub­lic­i­ty always use­ful for the accused in cas­es of treason?

IP: Certainly, not in every case. Where it helps, it should be used. But yes, now is not the best time for pub­lic­i­ty. Now it helps less than before.

T-i: How do you know if pub­lic­i­ty is needed?

IP: Take an expe­ri­enced lawyer, he will eval­u­ate all the cir­cum­stances. Publicity is need­ed if there is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pay atten­tion to the absur­di­ty and stu­pid­i­ty of the accu­sa­tion. If it can be shown very sim­ply. Highlight a clear fal­si­fi­ca­tion. Which is explic­it, which does not need to be proved in a com­pli­cat­ed way. There is a chance that it will help: Chekists do not like to look like fools, per­haps they will free a per­son. In oth­er cas­es, per­haps, I would not rec­om­mend publicity.

This mate­r­i­al was made by Olga ORLOVA and Alexander LITOY.
Translated into English by Maxim VOROBYOV.

,   27.05.2023

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