‘They’re persecuting Vanya for his journalism’ Ivan Safronov’s colleagues on his work, his arrest, and the treason charges
On July 7, federal agents arrested Ivan Safronov, a communications adviser to the head of the Russian space corporation “Roscosmos” — a role he’s had for just two months. For the previous 10 years, Safronov worked as an investigative journalist at Vedomosti and Kommersant, two of Russia’s best-respected business newspapers, reporting on national defense and the military-industrial complex. According to a statement released by the Federal Security Agency, Safronov collaborated with an intelligence agency in a NATO member state to collect and transmit 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. Meduza spoke to a handful of Safronov’s former colleagues and editors to find out what they think of his arrest and the serious charges against him.
Vanya [Ivan] is a professional, good journalist and a wonderful, honest, and open guy. I don’t believe the allegations. It’s all surreal to me. Of course, he ran into all the usual problems faced by journalists who write about sensitive topics and conduct various investigations. Journalism is a line of work where you’re always upsetting someone with what you’re writing. The industry that Vanya was writing about is of course more closed, so the people there are even more anxious and strict about their leaks.
Vanya had good, relevant sources. Yes, like with any journalist who works with such sources, sometimes they’d feed him information that wasn’t quite accurate, but generally speaking I don’t know about any radical problems that he would have encountered.
Former Vedomosti editor-in-chief
I’ve known Vanya since he was in the 10th grade, since his father’s accident. He followed in his father’s footsteps, also taking up journalism and coming to us at Kommersant as an intern at the politics desk. Then our paths diverged, but we stayed in touch. A little more than a year ago, when he was forced to leave Kommersant, I invited him back to Vedomosti. It wasn’t charity; I had faith in him, knowing him for many years as an honest, decent person and an excellent journalist. He left Vedomosti in late March, immediately after his first meeting with the new editor-in-chief.
I don’t believe the allegations now being reported. He wrote about very sensitive issues and he understood this, which is why he was always extremely careful and thorough. And this stuff about working for a foreign intelligence service… Vanya’s no fool. And besides he worked in the Kremlin press pool when he was with Kommersant. That means the Russian intelligence checked him inside and out. It just doesn’t fit.
Former Gazeta.ru editor-in-chief, venture capitalist
The first time I saw Vanya was when we were working at Gazeta.ru and his father brought him to the office and said: “Give him some kind of assignment and let him try out his journalism chops.” He brought Vanya because he was apparently interested in giving the profession a shot. Ivan Safronov Sr. was a legendary journalist. He wasn’t just knowledgeable about his field — he was a former military man himself and knew many military leaders personally. He was deeply immersed and well versed in materials regarding military and space exploration. When he spoke, people listened.
Vanya came to my office to try to write something. Later, he followed in his father’s footsteps and started working at Kommersant.
His father soon died in a strange and mysterious incident — one day, he came home and fell from a window in the lobby of his own apartment building. There’s now a photograph of Safronov Sr. hanging in Washington’s Newseum, where his death is described as unexplained.
I followed Vanya’s work. He wrote many interesting, excellent stories. It’s a difficult beat because even the reports from open sources can fall into the “gray zone” that interests counterintelligence. I fear that Ivan might have been caught in something like this. For someone bold enough to write about things like [Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina] Matviyenko’s resignation, they could dig up and find something in order to drag him into this “gray zone.”
Journalist (the quote below is from Facebook)
[...] By specialization in journalism, Vanya was a military correspondent. You might say he inherited this role. His father, Ivan Safronov Sr., was a military man who retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel and found work at Kommersant, where he wrote about the defense industry for a decade. A week before his death, Safronov Sr. told his editor that he was preparing a story about a dodgy shipment of Su-30 fighter jets to Syria and S-300V anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran, which Russia was trying to manage through Belarus. Safronov Sr. never managed to hand in the story. On March 2, 2007, he was found thrown out the window of his own apartment building. An investigation concluded that there was no foul play in his death.
Consequently, Kommersant then took young Vanya in hand and the defense industry treated him well, too, having highly respected his father (especially the rocket engineers). I think this is also why he was offered a job at Roscosmos.
Vanya was arrested today most likely because of his reporting as a journalist before he joined Roscosmos. Open Media says the FSB questioned Safronov about a report on the second crash of a MiG-29 in Egypt, which are being delivered to Cairo as part of the Russian defense industry’s biggest contract in the past five years.
Additionally, in the past year, Vanya has authored detailed articles and news stories about: the deadly fire aboard the “Losharik’ Russian submarine; the Hero of Russia title secretly awarded to [Rostech CEO Sergey] Chemezov; the failure of the “Thunder 2019” strategic command-and-staff training exercises, led personally by Putin; the fuck-up that caused a fire aboard the long-suffering “Admiral Kuznetsov” aircraft carrier (the only in Russia’s fleet), which delayed repairs by another year; and the first crash in the history of the Su-57 fighter jet.
Vanya is apparently charged with cooperating with NATO intelligence. We haven’t seen the case materials, but we know it’s customary for the work of Russia’s justice system to be like casino roulette, where decisions are sometimes based on merit and criminal cases are sometimes pulled from thin air. Investigations are reliably brought to a verdict, moreover, whether or not the evidence is absurd or has any merits. Treason prosecutions are particularly mysterious: these cases are hidden from the public and the authorities involved have an incentive to work along these lines just to keep their jobs. Treason convictions carry prison sentences from 12 to 20 years.
Former Kommersant politics editor (the quote below from Facebook)
Ivan Safronov is a responsible, honest person, a real professional and a good friend. I don’t believe in the accusations that are being talked about now, but I have reason to believe that this is an attempt to crackdown on what Vanya was doing as a journalist. I hope to see Ivan free soon.
Journalist (the quote below is from Facebook)
I have known Vanya practically since his childhood. Or rather, we met at the funeral of his father, Ivan Safronov Sr.
In 2007, Safronov Sr. and I wrote an investigation about the secret sale of missiles from Russia to Iran through Belarus. We had almost passed in the text, but Safronov Sr. suggested postponing it for a couple days — to collect comments. But the text never came out, because while Safronov Sr. was gathering comments, he suddenly fell ill. And then he fell from a window. Both then, as now, I am sure he was killed.
At that time Vanya was just preparing to enter journalism school. And he did everything [possible] to continue his father’s work, — within a few years he became a military columnist at Kommersant, like his father. And everyone knows that Vanya is a really decent, responsible guy, who wrote about the military and the arms trade.
Both Ivan Ivanych and Vanya are true patriots, who loved and love the motherland and — strangely enough — the domestic military-industrial complex. And sincerely worried about it. Those like Vanya and Ivan Safronov Sr. are the motherland. And those who persecute and kill them are the traitors.
How much more of this crap can we take?
Former Vedomosti co-owner and former Kommersant CEO (The quote below is from Facebook)
Ivan Safronov is a journalist by inheritance, writing about the military complex, the army, and the production and trade of weapons. I was lucky, I briefly met his father — also [named] Ivan, who died under strange circumstances, — everyone at [Kommersant] loved him, he worked there almost from the very beginning. Somehow everyone fell in love with little Vanya, at first by inheritance and then everyday, and now for the duration of 15 years, he has become ever more worthy of his father’s name. I would say, and of the fatherland, even though it has gotten worse. These two Safronovs had a rare quality — they were patriots and loved the topic of their research — the Russian military industry. Vanya sincerely wanted even [Roscosmos chief Dmitry] Rogozin to succeed. Vanya was not only a fine journalist, but also an incredibly decent, good, and beautiful person, which was particularly evident in the way he left Kommersant, and in the way he came [to] and left Vedomosti. Indicting Ivan is villainy, the baseness of a system that is obliged, but unprepared to be transparent, even in relation to a friendly, attentive, and compassionate perspective. Vanya is not guilty of treason, but it’s happening — the state has changed and now it has caught up to the very best of its children, to devour them.
Kommersant special correspondent (the quote below is from Facebook)
While Vanya Safronov was a journalist they didn’t touch him. After all, jailing a journalist for doing his job is even pretty scary for them: freedom of speech, the condemnation of the Western world, and so on. Roscosmos has already stated that Vanya wasn’t arrested for his work there. I am sure they’re persecuting Vanya for his journalistic work. I think that many colleagues also think so. It’s impossible to work as a journalist in Russia, you can only serve the authorities.
Proekt deputy editor-in-chief (the quote below is from Facebook)
“Treason” and Vanya Safronov — this is as much of an oxymoron as drugs and Ivan Golunov.
It feels like someone was deliberately waiting for Vanya to leave journalism, in order to proudly grab [him] under [the pretense of] “well what, he’s not a journalist anymore, no one will make a fuss.” Even though it’s obvious that no matter what the charges are, all of this is happening precisely during the period of [his] work in the media — although they probably won’t tell us exactly what.
Journalism is not a crime, calm down already.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock and Eilish Hart