Russian scientist Valery Mitko, president of the Arctic Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, was charged with treason on Monday for allegedly passing state secrets to China.
Mitko’s lawyers dismissed the charges as “absurd” and said he was engaged in legitimate academic activities during his trips to China as a guest lecturer.
Mitko, 78, has been under house arrest since February. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on treason charges.
His lawyer Ivan Pavlov said Mitko has been making two trips to China every year as a guest lecturer and usually carried academic documents with him, but they contained no secret information.
“There were no state secrets in there at all. We consider these accusations to be absurd,” Pavlov said.
According to the Moscow Times, Mitko is accused of agreeing to pass information of a “military nature” along to Chinese intelligence services, the Moscow Times reported. He was motivated by “selfish interest,” which would suggest he was paid for his services. A source said Mitko is specifically charged with providing “information on submarine detection technology” to Chinese intelligence agents between March 2017 and March 2018.
“Mitko is the latest in a string of elderly academics accused or convicted of cooperating with foreign states in recent years. Critics have blasted the charges as manifestations of the state’s paranoia,” the Moscow Times wrote, noting that Mitko’s speciality in Arctic research could be a factor in his case because competition for Arctic energy reserves between several countries, including Russia and China, has increased over the past few years.
The terms of Mitko’s house arrest forbid him from leaving his home or directly communicating with anyone by mail, telephone, or the Internet.