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Russia detains ex-journalist, now aide to space agency chief, on treason charges

Russian authorities on Tuesday detained a former journalist who works as an aide to the head of Russia’s space agency and accused him of state treason, Roscosmos said, a charge that could see him jailed for up to two decades if found guilty.

It said the detention of Ivan Safronov, who as a journalist once specialized in military affairs, was not linked to his employment with Roscosmos, where he works as an adviser to General Director Dmitry Rogozin.

The FSB Security Service was cited by the RIA news agency as saying that Safronov worked for the foreign intelligence service of an unspecified NATO country and had been handing over classified military information.

Safronov, who joined Roscosmos as a media adviser in May, is expected to appear in court later on Tuesday.

He previously worked as a journalist for Russian daily newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti.

Story removed from paper’s website

Citing a legal source, the TASS news agency reported last year that prosecutors wanted to bring a civil case against Kommersant for disclosing an unspecified state secret.

The Bell online news portal pointed out at the time that an article that Safronov had worked on had subsequently disappeared from Kommersant’s site.

The article, which remains unavailable, said that Egypt had signed a deal with Russia to buy more than 20 Sukhoi SU-35 multi-role fighter jets.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo subsequently threatened Egypt with sanctions if it went ahead with the purchase.

Safronov said he was forced to quit Kommersant last year after the newspaper’s publishing house took issue with an article he worked on which suggested that Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the upper house of parliament, might leave her post.

A spokesperson for Matviyenko, who remains the upper house’s speaker, dismissed the report at the time.

Safronov is seen being detained by members of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on state treason charges in Moscow in this still image taken from video released Tuesday. (The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation/Reuters)

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