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Jailed Russian physicist sounds alarm over prosecution of scientists

Published on September 21, 2021

A Russian physics professor arrested on treason charges has warned that the increasing prosecution of scientists was fuelling a brain drain and threatened international cooperation.

In a letter from jail, a copy of which was seen by AFP on Tuesday, Valery Golubkin said that his arrest and that of fellow physicist Anatoly Gubanov damaged Russia’s national security.

His comments came amid an increase in espionage cases against academics.

Golubkin, who taught a course on high-speed aerodynamics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, a top Russian physics university, was arrested in April.

His main employer was the Zhukovsky Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI).

Golubkin was detained after Gubanov, his boss at TsAGI, was arrested in December, 2020 on suspicion of treason for having allegedly handed over classified information to the West.

The physicist specialised in hypersonic aircraft.

In his letter, Golubkin said the criminal cases against scientists had led to “a real brain drain of young but already qualified specialists who do not wish to find themselves behind bars.

“More and more researchers are refusing to work under international contracts, having seen our sad experience with Gubanov and the imprisonment of other scientists,” Golubkin added.

Instead of prosecuting scientists, Russian authorities should “take care of the maintaining the continuity of scientific schools in order to ensure the implementation of breakthrough scientific research”, he added.

Golubkin’s lawyer Ivan Pavlov said on the messaging app Telegram this week that both scientists had taken part in an internationally funded project to develop hypersonic civil aircraft.

Golubkin maintains his innocence, saying he has been involved in international cooperation on various projects.

In recent years, a wide range of Russians including scientists have been accused of high treason or disclosing state secrets.

Ivan Safronov, a former journalist specialising in defence, was arrested in July 2020 and charged with treason.

In an op-ed from jail earlier this year, Safronov denounced the arbitrariness of Russia’s security services and the justice system.

Anyone who had contact with a foreigner could become a target, he wrote.