Russia arrests French non-profit worker suspected of gathering military intelligence

LONDON (Reuters) -Russia announced on Thursday that it had detained a Frenchman who was suspected of gathering intelligence about the Russian military. This is a serious accusation at a time when tensions between Moscow and the west are high over the conflict in Ukraine.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Swiss nonprofit, said that the man arrested was an employee of itss. He identified him as Laurent Vinatier (47), a Russian and Eurasia adviser.

The Russian Investigative Committee stated that the Frenchman had been suspected of “purposefully collecting information” in the area of military and technical activities of the Russian Federation over a number of years.

The statement continued: “This information can be used to undermine the security of a state when it is obtained from foreign sources.” To achieve this, he visited Russia on several occasions, including Moscow, and held meetings with Russian citizens.

Investigators have said that a Frenchman (whom they did not name) would be charged soon under a Russian law for failing to register as an “foreign agents”, which can result in a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

The French Foreign Ministry at Paris did not immediately comment.

HD’s representative told Reuters that they were aware of Vinatier being detained in Russia.

The representative stated that they were working hard to find out more about the situation and secure Laurent’s release.

HD’s website states that it has been operating since 1999, “to help prevent, mitigate, and resolve armed conflicts through dialogue and mediation”, in countries like Spain, the Philippines, and Libya.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the organization has staff or operations in Russia.

According to Vinatier’s LinkedIn profile, he was a consultant for the Eurasia/Russia Program at HD in Geneva for 10 years.

He has completed his PhD in the diaspora of Chechens and lectured at several European universities on political economy and international relations. He is the author of several books and chapters on Russia and Central Asia, as well as the Caucasus.

Vinatier spent more time in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

According to an announcement on the Church’s website, he met with representatives from the Moscow Orthodox Church during April 2022.

MASKED MEN EATING IN RESTAURANT

The Investigative Committee released a short video clip showing a man wearing jeans and a shirt in black being arrested in a restaurant, then escorted to a van before being led into a building. The face of the suspect was blurred.

Reuters identified the cafe in central Moscow as Akademia, the restaurant in the video.

Westerners who have been arrested by Russian security forces since the beginning of the Ukraine War are caught in the most severe crisis between Moscow and Westerners in more than 60 year.

Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. journalist, was arrested last year on suspicion of attempting to obtain military secrets. He was charged with espionage and could face a 20-year sentence. Paul Whelan was also convicted of spying in 2020. He is currently serving a 16 year sentence. Both have been designated as “wrongfully held” by the United States and they are seeking their release.

Gordon Black, an American soldier, was arrested by the police on May 2, in Vladivostok, in Russia’s far east. He went on trial Thursday, accused of stealing money from his Russian girlfriend, and of threatening to kill them.

Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian-American journalist, was arrested in October last year and is currently awaiting trial. She faces charges of failing to register as an “foreign agency” – which Russia uses to designate people and organizations it believes are using foreign funding for political activity. It has also used this designation extensively to suppress dissent.

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