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‘Classified’ — yet publicly available Journalists publish leaked indictment in Safronov treason case as verdict looms
The investigative outlet Proekt has published an in-depth study of the indictment in the treason case against former journalist Ivan Safronov. According to Proekt’s analysis, the case against Safronov lacks evidence and is based on inconsistent arguments from investigators. What’s more, Proekt found that all of the “classified” information that Safronov stands accused of passing to Western intelligence services is publicly available.
Ivan Safronov was arrested on treason charges in July 2020. According to the FSB, Safronov passed state secrets to Czech intelligence when he was working as a journalist for Kommersant in 2017. The final indictment revealed that he also stands accused of passing information about Russian troops in Syria to political scientist Dmitry Voronin, who was himself jailed on treason charges in February 2021.
Investigators insist that Safronov’s case has nothing to do with his journalism, but in July 2020, they offered him a plea bargain in exchange for naming his journalistic sources. Safronov rejected it.
In addition to the indictment, Proekt’s journalists also obtained and reviewed files that Safronov sent to journalist Martin Larysh and political analyst Dmitry (Demuri) Voronin. The FSB claims that Larysh and Voronin worked for Czech and German intelligence, respectively.
Publicly available ‘classified’ information
In the indictment, the prosecution alleges that Ivan Safronov — at the behest of Martin Larysh and Dmitry Voronin — obtained information of interest to NATO from persons with access to state secrets. Namely, information about Russian space reconnaissance equipment, Russia’s military and technical cooperation with other countries, and Russia’s activities in Syria. The prosecution also underscores that at the time of the crime, this information “was not publicly available on the Internet” and alleges that Safronov obtained it “under the guise of carrying out journalistic activities as a correspondent for Kommersant.”
According to Proekt, Martin Larysh and Ivan Safronov became friends in 2012. At the time, Larysh was working in Moscow as a correspondent for the Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny. Proekt says that Safronov agreed to write analytical articles about Russia and Eastern Europe for Larysh’s publication. “It was in these materials that the investigation found state secrets,” Proekt explains.
According to the indictment, political analyst Dmitry Voronin met Safronov in 2015, after journalist Ekaterina Vinokurova recommended him as an expert on the defense industry. According to Proekt’s findings, Voronin commissioned analytical articles from dozens of Russian journalists and experts. One of Proekt’s sources who wrote for Voronin said that he “presented himself as an employee of a German-Swiss consulting company and no one had any reason not to believe it.”
In addition to the indictment, Proekt obtained seven files that Safronov sent to Voronin and Larysh. State investigators allege that these files contained state secrets. However, Proekt’s journalists were able to find almost all of the information contained in these files in the public domain. As Proekt notes, Safronov had unsuccessfully petitioned the investigators handling his case to allow him a few hours of access to a computer, so that he could prove that the “classified information” included in the case file is publicly available.
According to Proekt’s findings, the information contained in the files was available in articles published by Kommersant (including ones authored by Safronov), Izvestiya, Regnum, Reuters, RBC, and La Stampa, as well as by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti and the Russian Defense Ministry.
Nevertheless, the indictment states that upon being shown “Larysh’s reconnaissance assignments” and “Safronov’s reports,” multiple witnesses told investigators that the information therein was not publicly available, contained state secrets, and/or had “nothing to do with journalism.”
Dmitry Voronin was arrested on treason charges in February 2021. According to Proekt, FSB investigator Alexander Chaban convinced Voronin to accept a plea deal. In exchange for a lighter sentence, Voronin admitted that he received classified information from Ivan Safronov and then sold it to foreign intelligence agencies. Chaban also demanded that Voronin name his “handler.” Eventually, Voronin gave the name “Wischer” — a German word that translates as “wanker.”
Voronin later retracted his testimony in court, saying that he had perjured Safronov. As Proekt notes, this means that his confession cannot be used as evidence. In July, pro-Kremlin sources reported that Voronin had been incriminated in another criminal case. He now stands accused of being a client of a group of police officers suspected of selling confidential information about Russian citizens. According to Safronov’s lawyers, Russian authorities may be taking revenge against Voronin for retracting his testimony.
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What the witnesses said
Proekt found that the case against Safronov was primarily built on witness testimonies. The witness list includes some of Safronov’s sources, as well as high-ranking employees of structures in the defense field and space industry. In the indictment, the prosecution claims that these witnesses told investigators that Safronov regularly tried to obtain classified information from them, but was rebuffed. One witness even suggested that Safronov may have seen classified documents in his office.
According to the indictment, some witnesses criticized Safronov’s journalistic work in their statements to the FSB. For example, Rosoboronexport spokesperson Vyacheslav Davidenko allegedly said that Safronov “was never an outstanding journalist” and that he published articles in Kommersant that contained “confidential information of a military nature.”
Military expert Ruslan Pukhov allegedly told investigators that he didn’t consider Safronov the “legendary journalist” he had been made out to be. After reviewing “Larysh’s reconnaissance assignments,” Pukhov said that information being requested was “too specific” and “more of interest to foreign intelligence services” than media readers. During the trial, however, Safronov’s lawyers pointed out that data included in his correspondence (specifically, information related to weapons supplies to CIS countries) was printed in Pukhov’s academic journal Arms Export. According to Proekt, “having heard this, the expert [Pukhov] was confused and thought up nothing better than to say that Safronov is a bad journalist.”
The indictment also cites testimonies from Safronov’s colleagues. Kommersant editor-in-chief Vladimir Zhelonkin told the investigators who showed him “Larysh’s letters” that the questions contained therein “had nothing to do with journalism” or editorial assignments from Kommersant. In turn, Zhelonkin’s deputy, Alexander Stukalin, said that these questions “could have something to do with journalism” if it was for a “narrow military expert publication.” Stukalin added that Safronov “enjoyed the respect” of his colleagues and was known for his “good sense of humor, efficiency, and reliability.”
Ekaterina Vinokurova, the journalist who recommended Safronov to Dmitry Voronin, also testified that most of the questions contained in “Larysh’s letters” “allow for the disclosure of information constituting state secrets.” Notably, Vinokurova is not a military expert and mainly writes about domestic politics in Russia. As a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council in 2020, Vinokurova discussed Safronov’s case with Vladimir Putin directly. Among other things, she noted that “a lot of information that constitutes state secrets is actually in the public domain.”
The impending verdict
According to Safronov’s defense lawyers, the security forces installed wiretapping and video surveillance in the journalist’s apartment back in 2014 — a year before the alleged start of his “criminal activity.” Safronov’s lawyers also said that this surveillance failed to capture any conversations concerning state secrets.
Proekt also noted that the indictment contains no evidence that Safronov received “any serious money” for his alleged work for Western intelligence services — despite the fact that according to investigators, he acted “out of selfish motives.” The indictment lists two different sums that Safronov allegedly received for his work with Martin Larysh, but there is no documentation showing the origins of these funds.
Ivan Safronov’s trial is set to resume on Tuesday, August 30. According to Proekt, the court may issue a verdict before September 4. Safronov faces up to 25 years in prison.
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