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‘Well-known in his field’ What we know about the University of Tartu professor accused of spying for Russia

Source: Meduza
University of Tartu

In early January, Estonia arrested Viacheslav Morozov, a political science professor at the University of Tartu. The Estonian prosecutor’s office has accused Morozov, who holds Russian citizenship, of working with Russian intelligence services. Morozov’s colleagues remain skeptical of these accusations and point to the academic’s public criticism of Putin and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The independent St. Petersburg news outlet Bumaga detailed Estonian security officials’ explanation for Morozov’s arrest and compiled reactions from his colleagues. With Bumaga’s permission, Meduza is publishing a translation.

Update: On January 18, the University of Tartu updated its website to say that Viacheslav Morozov’s employment contract was terminated “at his own request.” (This article was first published in Russian on January 16.)

Morozov was detained in Estonia in early January. Two weeks later, he was no longer employed at the University of Tartu.

On Tuesday, January 16, the University of Tartu officially reported that Morozov’s employment contract had been terminated and that he was under investigation by the Estonian authorities. The university administration informed the staff and students of the Johan Skytte Institute, where the political scientist worked. The Institute also prepared a review of Morozov’s research and teaching.

Later, the Estonian broadcasting network ERR’s Russian service, citing the local prosecutor’s office, reported that the Estonian Internal Security Service had detained Morozov as early as January 3. According to the outlet, the researcher is suspected of engaging in “intelligence activities against the Republic of Estonia.”

Morozov has been held in a prison in Tallinn for almost two weeks. State prosecutor Triinu Olev told ERR that the political scientist wasn’t placed under house arrest so that he wouldn’t be able to evade prosecution and continue working for Russian intelligence. Estonia’s Harju County Court agreed with the prosecutor’s arguments and placed Morozov under arrest for a period of two months.

Estonian security officials cite the scholar’s trips to Russia as the reason for his arrest

In conversation with ERR, the prosecutor’s representatives refused to disclose details about the charges against Morozov in the interest of the ongoing investigation. The head of Estonia’s Internal Security Service (ISS) Margo Palloson told journalists that Morozov could have been reporting to Russian special services since he traveled to Russia “on a regular basis.”

According to Palloson, “people should seriously consider how much they need to travel to Russia given that there’s a serious risk of being pressured by Russian intelligence.” It’s not clear specifically what information Morozov could have been able to access, though Palloson said this would “become clear throughout the course of the investigation.”

The head of the ISS said that Russia maintains a high-level of interest in spying in Estonia. According to him, Morozov’s case “illustrates the Russian special services’ desire to penetrate different spheres of life in Estonia, including academia.”

The ISS and the prosecutor’s office didn’t specify what information the professor might have shared with Russian intelligence about Estonia. The agencies added that they believe Morozov may have been engaging in espionage for years.

Dmitry Dubrovsky, a former associate professor at Russia’s Higher School of Economics and Morozov’s colleague, told independent outlet iStories that the detained researcher regularly traveled to Russia to visit his parents.

According to Dubrovsky, Morozov refused a lawyer. It’s likely he’ll enter into a pre-trial agreement with the investigation. Dubrovsky says the political scientist could have been blackmailed.

Morozov’s wife also lives in Estonia.

Morozov’s colleagues remain skeptical about the accusations

St. Petersburg historian Ivan Kurilla, who has reportedly known Morozov for 25 years, commented on his detention, calling the detained professor “internationally well-known in the [academic political science] field” and a person “characterized by sound judgement.”

Kurilla said he doesn’t believe the charges brought against Morozov and called it criminal prosecution on the basis of citizenship.

“The University of Tartu fired Morozov based on an arrest, before the trial and proof of guilt. Well, we know what country does that. The university proved that, in practice, its Soviet heritage is stronger than its European one,” noted Kurilla.

In conversation with iStories, Dmitry Dubrovsky says he doubts that Morozov worked with Russian intelligence and recalls Morozov having always been critical of Putin’s regime.

Morozov’s social media shows no signs of sympathy for the Russian authorities, notes Bumaga. On Facebook, Morozov follows Meduza, as well as opposition politician Lyubov Sobol, economist Konstantin Sonin, the band Aigel, and the musician Boris Grebenshchikov, who have all spoken out against Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Morozov’s Facebook page also features his academic work, which, among other topics, focus on international relations in modern Russia. In his research, he calls Russia’s foreign policy “imperial” and analyzes the rhetoric of Russian propaganda, including the terms “Russian world” and “civilization state.”

In May 2022, Morozov made a post describing an initiative that publishes analysis from Russian professionals in order to “understand Russia after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.”

Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion, Morozov took part in lectures conducted by the Liberal Mission Foundation, which included discussions with sociologist Grigory Yudin about human rights, as well as talks about Russia’s “power vertical.”

More on Grigory Yudin

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‘Russia ends nowhere,’ they say Sociologist Grigory Yudin discusses a year of war and what comes next

Morozov collaborated with U.S. and European universities

Prior to working at the University of Tartu, Morozov taught at St. Petersburg State University’s (SPBU) Faculty of International Relations. He worked at SPBU as an associate professor from 1997 until 2010, according to his Facebook page. Morozov also taught at the Norwegian University Center in St. Petersburg and the University of Denver’s Graduate School of International Studies.

The political scientist had previously studied at the University of Limerick in Ireland. His research interests were postcolonial studies, democratic theory, and E.U.-Russia relations.

Prior to his arrest, Morozov was working on two academic projects, according to the Estonian Research Information System’s website. One of the projects, which focuses on the study of elite and mass discourses in Estonian-Russian relations, was awarded a grant of 691,900 euros ($752,500) from the Estonian Research Council.

The second project received a 64,000-euro ($69,620) grant from the Norwegian Research Council and focuses on deteriorating relations between Russia and the West after the annexation of Crimea.

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Story by Timur Khayrutdinov for Bumaga

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