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Ivan Safronov, 2016

The Ivan Safronov case Here’s what we know so far about the arrest of a Russian journalist on treason charges

Source: Meduza
Ivan Safronov, 2016
Ivan Safronov, 2016
Petr Kassin / Kommersant

On Tuesday, July 7, the authorities in Moscow arrested former Kommersant and Vedomosti correspondent Ivan Safronov, now an adviser to the head of the Russian space corporation “Roscosmos,” on suspicion of treason. The first media outlet to report the incident was the Telegram channel Life Shot, which also published video footage of the arrest. A source told the news agency TASS that agents from the Federal Security Service arrested Safronov. Roscosmos has confirmed Safronov’s arrest, but insists that the charges are not related to his work for the state corporation. Officials searched the journalist’s home and — according to a source with ties to the FSB who spoke to Open Russia — also seized Safronov’s documents at his Roscosmos office. Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin says Safronov did not have access to classified data in his role as his adviser.

Safronov has been denied access to his lawyers. At least two lawyers have tried to visit Safronov in custody: Oleg Eliseyev of the “Open Russia Human Rights” project and Sergey Badamshin, who’s worked as a defense attorney in at least two other high-profile cases, helping Moscow State University student Varvara Karaulova and Meduza journalist Ivan Golunov. At the time of this writing, the FSB has refused to let Safronov meet with any attorneys.

An adviser to the head of Roscosmos was just arrested in Moscow. It could be a treason case.

The FSB says Ivan Safronov (age 30) worked for an intelligence agency in a NATO member state. According to a statement released by the Federal Security Agency, Russian intelligence discovered that Safronov collected and transmitted classified information about Russian military-technical cooperation and national defense and security. If convicted of treason, Safronov could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

Some sources have tied Safronov’s arrest to his work as a journalist. A source told Interfax that Safronov has no access to state secrets in his position at Roscosmos. Another source told the same news agency that the arrest is likely related to his reporting on Russia’s military-technical cooperation. That same individual says Safronov was summoned for questioning by the FSB more than a year ago, but the matter didn’t concern a criminal investigation at the time.

Some say the treason charges against Safronov could relate to a Kommersant article about Russia exporting Su-35 fighter jets to Egypt, written by Ivan Safronov and Alexandra Dzhordzhevich. The story was published on March 18, 2019, and deleted from the newspaper’s website shortly thereafter. In June, it came to light that Kommersant would be charged with administrative liability for disclosing state secrets protected by law. A court later declined to hear the case, however. According to Open Media, the FSB questioned Safronov multiple times, including in connection with the story about the export of fighter jets to Egypt. But Kommersant CEO and editor-in-chief Vladimir Zhelonkin says the newspaper has received no new complaints about the story, and the authorities have not searched the newspaper’s offices. Alexandra Dzhordzhevich, who co-authored the report about the jets with Safronov, has declined to comment publicly about her former colleague’s arrest.

At a press conference, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that the case against Safronov is related to his work as a journalist. Putin’s press secretary repeated praise for Safronov’s work as a reporter, saying he regrets that Russia’s intelligence community has now collected evidence about alleged treason. Peskov declined to specify how these crimes were supposedly committed outside Safronov’s journalism, if not during his work with Roscosmos. Peskov also indicated that the treason case, like all cases involving state secrets, will not be conducted in full public view.

Ivan Safronov was a business news reporter for a decade, writing many stories about Russia’s military-industrial complex. From 2010 to 2019, he was a correspondent for Kommersant, authoring reports about Russia’s space industry and military-technical cooperation. He also worked briefly in the Kremlin press pool, temporarily replacing Kommersant special correspondent Andrey Kolesnikov.

Kommersant fired Safronov in May 2019, following his report about Valentina Matviyenko potentially stepping down from her post as speaker of the Federation Council. In a show of solidarity, the newspaper’s entire politics desk resigned in protest. Until 2020, Safronov worked as a special correspondent at Vedomosti, which he left after the controversial appointment of Andrey Shmarov as acting editor-in-chief. In May 2020, he took a job as a public communications adviser to the head of Roscosmos. 

Safronov’s father, Ivan Sr., also worked for Kommersant, where he reported on the Army and Navy. Safronov’s father died in March 2007 after falling from a window at the family’s home. Before his death, he was preparing a story about Russia’s shipments of Su-30 fighter jets to Syria and S-300V anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran, which could have caused a major international scandal, according to Kommersant. The story’s co-author, journalist Mikhail Zygar, says the report was finished but never published.

Text by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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