Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 78

In a replay of what increasingly has become a familiar story in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, yet another Russian scientist was indicted last week on seemingly trumped up charges of espionage. The latest victim of the Russian Federal Security Service’s (FSB) ever more heavy-handed effort to chill contacts between Russian security specialists and their foreign contacts is Valentin Danilov, a 53-year-old scientist who has been employed for some twenty years at the Krasnoyarsk Technical University in Russia’s Siberia region. Danilov, who heads the Thermo-Physics Center at the institute, has reportedly been in custody since February 16. What is unusual about his case is the country for which he reportedly spied. He was officially charged last week for having sold research materials to a Chinese import-export company, and reportedly faces from twelve to twenty years in jail if convicted of espionage.

With the exception of the China connection, the circumstances surrounding Danilov’s arrest are depressingly similar to those of a host of other Russian (and one American) defense specialists who have been investigated and detained by the FSB over the past several years. That is, like Aleksandr Nikitin, Grigory Pasko, Igor Sutyagin and Edmund Pope, Danilov is being held on seemingly flimsy charges that appear to reflect more the paranoia of increasingly emboldened Russian security agents than any threat to the country’s security. As was the case with Nikitin and the rest, moreover, Danilov’s colleagues have also stepped forward to proclaim his innocence and to call for the scientist’s release. And while there seems to be a possibility in this case that Danilov’s detention is the result of over-zealousness on the part of a regional FSB office, the case being manufactured against him nevertheless fits into a broader policy–one clearly embraced by Russian authorities right up to the current president. By most Russian and foreign accounts, the object of that campaign is to intimidate members of Russia’s civilian defense establishment so as to chill contacts which have grown up between Russian and foreign defense specialists and organizations in the period since the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

According to reports out of Russia, the specific charges against Danilov involve an alleged attempt to sell information about the effects of space on satellites to a Chinese export-import precision engineering company. Russian reports say that the transaction occurred under a two-year-old contract involving Danilov’s own institute, together with both the Chinese national company for import-export items of the precision machine-building industry and the Physics Institute of the Chinese Aerospace Corporation.

According to a colleague, Danilov’s work dealt with the effects of solar activity on satellites. And that, he said, might be seen by the FSB as sensitive because of its relevance to antisatellite weapons. But his colleagues also insist that there was nothing whatsoever secret about the information Danilov provided. The classified status of Danilov’s work was lifted in 1992, they said, and “virtually all his research has long been in the public domain.” They also said that he had not sold the information under the deal with the Chinese company, but had simply been asked to create a scientific exhibit depicting his research. They also claim that he undertook the project with the permission of the Russian Federation Ministry of Education.