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‘A slip of the tongue’ Fact-checking Putin’s comments on the Safronov treason case

Source: Meduza
Andrey Vasilyev / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

During a meeting with members of Russia’s Human Rights Council on Thursday, December 10, President Vladimir Putin spoke about the case of former journalist and advisor to the head of Roscosmos Ivan Safronov, who was jailed on treason charges in July. As Putin’s comments revealed, he doesn’t quite have the facts straight when it comes to the details of the criminal case against Safronov. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later maintained that the president simply misspoke.

Ivan Safronov previously worked as an investigative journalist reporting on Russia’s military-industrial complex for the Russian business newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti. He went to work as a communications advisor to the head of Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos in May 2020.

On July 7, federal agents arrested him on treason charges. According to the investigation, Safronov passed state secrets to Czech intelligence when he was working for Kommersant in 2017. Investigators have never specified what classified information they are referring to.

Safronov maintains that he isn’t guilty and his defense lawyers are confident that he is being persecuted for his previous journalistic work. While investigators insist that Safronov’s case has nothing to do with his journalism, they did offer him a plea bargain in exchange for naming his journalistic sources. Safronov turned it down.

What did Putin say?

Well he was convicted not for the fact that he worked as a journalist, not for his professional journalist activities, but for his period of work as an advisor to the head of Roscosmos. And for the information that he passed, as far as I know, to officers from one of the European intelligence services. For this, and not for his work at Kommersant, where he had already left.

What’s wrong with that?

Firstly, Ivan Safronov has yet to be convicted. The investigation into his case is still ongoing. He has been in pre-trial detention since July 7 and at the end of November a Moscow court extended his detention until March 7, 2021.

Secondly, according to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the evidence that Safronov committed treason was recorded in 2017 — when he was still working as a journalist for the Russian business newspaper Kommersant. Back then, he allegedly passed some classified information to the Czech Republic’s intelligence services.

What’s more, Russia’s state space corporation, Roscosmos, has stated that Safronov came to work for them in 2020 and that he didn’t have access to any classified information containing state secrets. Safronov’s defense lawyer Dmitry Katchev has also confirmed that the criminal case against his client isn’t related to his work at the state corporation.

How did Putin’s spokesman explain this?

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has since stated that Putin’s comments were a “slip of the tongue.”

[Putin] was speaking in general about what Safronov is charged with. The collection and transmission of information. What [he said] about him [Safronov] being convicted and that it was for his work at Roscosmos was a slip of the tongue.

Peskov added that the Russian president’s mistakes “didn’t change the general meaning” of his comments. According to Putin’s spokesman, the president isn’t familiar with the details of the investigation.

Text by Alexander Filimonov

Translation by Eilish Hart

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