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Russian missile scientist accused of betraying secrets to China

Alexander Shiplyuk, director of Siberia’s Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (ITAM), stands accused of treason, suspected of divulging classified information to China, according to individuals privy to the case. Shiplyuk, who was arrested last year, is part of a growing list of Russian scientists accused of betraying state secrets to Beijing.

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At the heart of the case lies a scientific conference held in China in 2017, where Shiplyuk is believed to have shared classified material. Despite the severe charges, the 56-year-old maintains that the information was publicly available online and not classified.

This revelation comes amidst rising tensions in Russian academia, following the recent arrests of three scientists on treason charges, which have provoked widespread anger. This incident signifies Moscow’s vigilant approach in protecting its technological edge, especially in hypersonic missile technology, a field in which Russia has been globally recognised as a leader.

The Chinese foreign ministry defended against these allegations, emphasizing the non-confrontational nature of Sino-Russian relations. They further highlighted the difference between their relations with Russia and those of military and intelligence alliances formed based on a Cold War mindset.

Russian authorities continue to remain vigilant against potential treason, a charge that has seen an increase in penalties including life imprisonment. The Kremlin maintains that the security services are merely performing their duties in the face of these “very serious accusations”.

Simultaneously, the scientific community has rallied around the accused. In an open letter penned by ITAM colleagues, they criticized the restrictive environment that prevents scientists from conducting their work without the fear of being arrested. They further rejected the possibility of any betrayal of secrets, insisting that all published or presented material had been thoroughly vetted for classification.

Shiplyuk’s case, along with his ITAM colleagues Anatoly Maslov and Valery Zvegintsev, is classified top-secret and will be tried behind closed doors. As a response to the arrest, fellow scientists have defended their colleagues as legitimate academics. They highlight the long and complex process of building a hypersonic missile and suggest that the basic research conducted by the accused scientists doesn’t necessarily lead to missile creation.

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