Russian court sends to prison physicist who designed hypersonic missiles for Putin

The 77-year-old was found guilty of treason for sharing information with the Chinese…. whom the Kremlin calls “friends”.

A court in St. Petersburg sentenced 77-year-old physicist Anatoly Maslov to 14 years in prison on charges of treason in late May. The scientist who worked in Novosibirsk pleaded not guilty while his lawyers told the media that the case was a KGB-style fabrication for political reasons.

The St. Petersburg City Court reviewed Anatoly Maslov's case in a closed session because it was classified. The judge ordered the scientist to serve his term in a high-security prison.

"He does not admit the guilt - there is simply nothing to admit. The case is based on prosecutors’ fantasies," lawyer Olga Dinze told the BBC.

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According to her, during the trial, the defense filed a motion regarding numerous violations of the criminal procedure code and the law on investigative activities by the Federal Security Service (FSB) – all of which would have invalidated prosecutors’ allegations. The court, however, declined to review the complaints.

"The defendant did not want to testify against himself and hoped the court would fairly look at the facts and do justice. When he saw what was happening, he became disillusioned and lost interest in participating in this trial," Dinze explained. "Any real sentence for him is a life sentence; he fears he wouldn't survive in prison for more than a year."

In February 2024, Maslov suffered a heart attack while in pre-trial detention.

Maslov worked for over 20 years as the deputy director at the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (ITPM) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Siberian branch, supervising aerodynamics research. He was arrested in June 2022 on charges of passing military secrets to Chinese intelligence.

Following Maslov's arrest, the FSB went after his colleagues at the ITPM. In August 2022, the security service detained the institute's director, Alexander Shiplyuk, a former student of Maslov, and in April 2023, the FSB arrested the ITPM’s chief scientific researcher Valery Zvegintsev, also on treason charges.

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The three arrested physicists had been involved in studying the aerodynamics properties of hypersonic flows and their research was crucial for the design of Russia’s hypersonic weapons. They had been indeed engaged in collaborations with colleagues in China, the United States, European Union countries, but strictly in civilian applications and with clearance from the government.

Anatoly Maslov, for example, had been studying turbulence characteristics before being apprehended. In his case, which is classified, the FSB has not disclosed the specific charges for the general public.

Since Vladimir Putin boasted about Russian hypersonic missiles in 2018, the FSB has arrested 11 physicists whose research was related to defense technologies, according to Russian media reports.

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