The mystery behind the death of a Russian scientist accused of selling secrets to the US and China

The death of yet another Russian scientist accused of treason raises suspicions about the government of Vladimir Putin and Russian repression. Valery Mitko was an expert in hydroacoustics and was accused by the Kremlin of revealing state secrets to China, which may concern the nuclear submarine that NATO suspects of being used by Russia.

Mitko died at years in St Petersburg earlier this month while under house arrest. He is the third Russian expert to die in the past two years after being charged or convicted of high treason in connection with hypersonic weapons technology, the scientist’s lawyer Pervyi Otdel tweeted.

Mitko was accused in 2021 of “delivering materials, which allegedly contained information classified as top secret, to China’s special services during a visit to that country”, as the Kremlin highlighted at the time. Treason to the State is punishable in Russia with up to 20 years in prison. Mitko had been under house arrest for more than two years and would appear in court later this year.

The scientist was among several elderly Russian academics who have been arrested for allegedly cooperating with foreign states in recent years. Kremlin critics call this wave of repression a “manifestation of the state’s growing paranoia.”

Mitko denied the allegations and maintained that the information he was accused of sharing was in the public domain.

The network of lawyers and activists who defended him highlighted that the scientist had been hospitalized frequently in the two and a half years he spent under house arrest. “He was brought back on a stretcher just days before (he died), unable to walk or sit, let alone care for his bedridden wife,” wrote attorney Pervyi Otdel.

“Professor Valery Mitko has become yet another scientist tortured by Russia’s repressive system”, concluded the lawyer.

Nuclear submarine

This secret information that Mitko is said to have transmitted to the Chinese allegedly included data on underwater acoustics and submarine detection methods. The technology is one of the priorities of the next generation weapons development program approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin and which was presented with great fanfare in 2000. The president repeatedly assured that this weaponry is “incomparable”.

At the beginning of the month, NATO sent an intelligence note to member countries in which it warns of the mobilization of the Russian nuclear submarine K -20 Belgorod, bearer of the Poseidon nuclear missile, also known as the “Weapon of the Apocalypse”.

This projectile would be capable of travel to 1,000 km underwater and then explode close to shore to cause a radioactive tsunami.

“It is a completely new type of weapon that will force Western navies to change their planning and develop new countermeasures,” said expert HI Sutton, according to the Italian newspaper La Reppubblica

Suspicious deaths

Deaths of people accused of treason to the Kremlin are frequent in Russia, whether scientists, oligarchs or political opponents. Last month, for example, Ravil Maganov, president of Russia’s second-largest oil producer, Lukoil, died “after falling out of a hospital window” in Moscow. Kremlin critics point out that the suspicious death would actually be a reprisal for Lukoil, who has officially taken a stand against the war in Ukraine several times since the Russian invasion.

Since he assumed the Russian presidency, in 2000, Putin is accused of having his opponents poisoned, a centuries-old practice that would have been inherited from the times of the extinct Soviet Union. The president was an officer in the Soviet secret service of the KGB.

One of the first cases of poisoning that occurred during the Putin government took place in September of 2004 ), when the opposition candidate in the Ukrainian presidential election, Viktor Yushchenko, became seriously ill and had his face disfigured, but survived. The illness had been caused by a toxic substance he had ingested during a meal.

In 2020, the main leader of the Russian opposition, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned and made a long recovery. At the beginning of 2021, after months out of Russia, he returned to the country for the first time since his poisoning and was arrested.

According to with the German government, Navalny was poisoned by a substance known as Novichok. Most of the chemical would have been planted in his underwear. The Kremlin has denied the allegations of involvement.

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