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Russia detains three scientists for treason after missiles intercepted by Ukraine

By Sarah May
|
May 19, 2023

In what observers suggest is a troubling sign for the future of Russian technology and innovation, three of the country's most notable hypersonic missile scientists have been detained on suspicion of treason, as Reuters reports.

According to the Kremlin, the allegations made against the trio are “very serious,” and the entire situation has sparked concern across the scientific community in Russia, with new details coming on the heels of Ukrainian claims that its American-supplied air defense systems have downed several of its opponent's missiles.

Russian Scientists Detained

As NBC News notes, the scientists at issue were all employed by the Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics in Novosibirsk and were taken into custody over the past year on suspicion of high treason.

The arrests of Anatoly Maslov and Alexander Shiplyuk were reported by the Tass state media agency last summer, and the detention of Valery Zvegintsev was publicized this week, though it was said to have occurred roughly three weeks prior.

Tass indicated that Shiplyuk had been at the helm of the laboratory concentrating on hypersonic technologies, where there are “unique hypersonic aerodynamic installations designed to study the fundamental and applied problems of hypersonic flight.”

Maslov is, according to Tass, a noted expert in the realm of aerogasdynamics.

Academics Raise Concerns

Amid the ongoing detention and legal jeopardy facing the three men, a number of their colleagues published a letter on Monday declaring the men's innocence and warning of the damage their prosecutions could do to Russian science in a broader sense, according to Reuters.

According to the signatories, Russian research in the area of hypersonic technology is at risk of “impending collapse” due to the situations in which the three now find themselves.

Noting that the detained scientists are all trailblazers in their field, the concerned colleagues noted that all three declined lucrative opportunities to take their talents elsewhere in order to remain in Russia. “We know each of them as a patriot and a decent person who is not capable of doing what the investigating authorities suspect them of,” the letter explained.

Noting the pervasive fear they feel under such a climate of suspicion, the scientists added, “In this situation, we are not only afraid for the fate of our colleagues. We just do not understand how to continue to do our job,” further noting, “[e]ven now, the best students refuse to come work with us, and our best young employees are leaving science. A number of research areas that are critically important to laying the fundamental groundwork for the aerospace technology of the future are simply closing because employees are afraid to engage in such research.”

Kremlin Stays Mum

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Russian government, signaled his awareness of the scientists' letter and of their concerns about the detentions, but declined to offer much in the way of specific comment, according to the Daily Mail.

“We have indeed seen this appeal, but Russian special services are working on this. They are doing their job,” Peskov said.

The Kremlin representative added, “These are very serious accusations.”

Though details of the three men's cases have not been revealed to the public, Tass reported this past week that Maslov's case purportedly involves classified materials that have been turned over to a St. Petersburg court.

Claims from Kyiv

Also plaguing Russia's hypersonic fortunes, according to NBC News, are claims from Kyiv that Ukrainian forces have succeeded in shooting down several such missiles in recent days, weaponry which President Vladimir Putin has claimed in the past to be virtually “invulnerable.”

Ukrainian authorities on Tuesday boasted shoot-downs of six Kinzhal missiles in the span of just one night, though the Kremlin took issue with that characterization, and, if those claims are true, according to the British Defense Ministry, the situation was “likely a surprise and an embarrassment for Russia.

In what appeared to be an attempt to mitigate the appearance of bad news regarding Ukraine's success against its supposedly unbeatable weapons, Russia's Defense Ministry said that one of its missiles “struck and completely destroyed” one of Kyiv's American-provided surface-to-air missile defense systems.

Subsequent reports from U.S. officials suggested, however, that the Patriot set-up had merely sustained some damage and remained operational, casting substantial doubt on Moscow's assessment.