Treason trial of Russian hypersonic missile scientist begins

Anatoly Maslov is one of three scientists involved in the Russian hypersonic missile program on trial for treason.

A prominent Russian scientist involved in the country’s hypersonic missile program has been rightly charged with state treason amid strict secrecy and concerns about the elderly defendant’s health.

The trial of Anatoly Maslov began Thursday in St. Petersburg, the first case against three hypersonic rocket scientists who worked at an institute in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and who now face, according to the Kremlin, “very serious charges.”

The trial, marked “top secret”, is closed to the media and the public, the St Petersburg court has said. Maslov’s lawyer could not be reached for comment on the opening of the proceedings.

A source close to Maslov, 76, told Reuters news agency the rocket scientist had suffered two heart attacks and spent time in hospital since his arrest last June in Novosibirsk.

Doctors at the pre-trial detention center have not allowed Maslov access to all the drugs prescribed by his regular doctor, the source said, adding: “He is holding on, but his condition is obviously not very good.” Reuters was unable to independently verify the drug refusal allegation.

Maslov was a professor and researcher at the Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, one of the most important scientific centers of Russia.

All three defendants are specialists in hypersonics – an area critical to the development of Russia’s next-generation missiles, capable of flying at 10 times the speed of sound.

Colleagues from the Khristianovic Institute sent an open letter in support of the three imprisoned scientists on May 15 affirming their innocence and patriotism, noting that the accused had shunned the possibility of high-paying jobs abroad in order to devote themselves to “serving of Russian science”.

“We know each of them as a patriot and a decent person who is incapable of doing what the investigating authorities suspect them to be.” according to a translation of the letter.

“In this situation, we are not only afraid of the fate of our colleagues. We just don’t understand how to continue doing our job,” the letter’s signatories added, pointing to their fear of also being accused of treason for simply doing their job as scientists.

“What we are rewarded for today and set as an example to others will become grounds for criminal prosecution tomorrow.”

Details of the allegations against the three are classified, but the news portal of the science city where they are based said Maslov was suspected of passing secrets to China.

The source said Maslov maintains his innocence and “does not consider himself a traitor. He believes he has always done everything right.”

Shortly after his arrest, Maslov was sent to Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, a former KGB interrogation site, before being transferred to St Petersburg to face trial.

The Russian parliament voted in April to raise the maximum sentence for treason to 20 years in prison.