Frenchman Detained in Russia Amid Rising Tensions Over Ukraine War

Laurent Vinatier, a French advisor working for a Swiss nonprofit, was detained by Russia for allegedly gathering information on military activities. Accused of being a 'foreign agent,' he faces up to five years in prison. His detention occurs amid heightened tensions between Moscow and the West over the Ukraine war.

Reuters | Updated: 06-06-2024 21:13 IST | Created: 06-06-2024 21:13 IST
Frenchman Detained in Russia Amid Rising Tensions Over Ukraine War

Russia said on Thursday it had detained a Frenchman suspected of gathering information about the Russian military, a serious charge at a time of acute tension between Moscow and the West over the war in Ukraine. A Swiss-based nonprofit, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), said the arrested man was its employee and named him as Laurent Vinatier, 47, an adviser on Russia and Eurasia.

Russia's state Investigative Committee said the Frenchman was suspected, over a period of several years, to have "purposefully collected information in the field of military and military-technical activities of the Russian Federation". It added: "This information, when obtained by foreign sources, can be used against the security of the state. For these purposes, he repeatedly visited the territory of Russia, including the city of Moscow, where he held meetings with citizens of the Russian Federation."

Investigators said Frenchman, whom they did not identify by name, would be charged shortly under a Russian law on failing to register as a "foreign agent", which carries a punishment of up to five years in prison. No comment was immediately available from the French Foreign Ministry in Paris.

A representative of HD told Reuters it was aware of Vinatier's detention in Russia. "We are working to get more details of the circumstances and to secure Laurent's release", the representative said.

The website of HD says it has operated since 1999 to "help prevent, mitigate and resolve armed conflict through dialogue and mediation" in countries such as Spain, the Philippines and Libya. It was not immediately clear if the organisation has operations or staff in Russia.

Vinatier's LinkedIn page says he has been an adviser to the Eurasia/Russia Programme at HD for 10 years, based in Geneva. He completed his PhD on the Chechen diaspora and has lectured on international relations and political economy at various European universities. He has authored several books and book chapters on Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Vinatier continued to spend time in Russia after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He met with representatives of the Moscow Orthodox Church in April 2022, according to a notice on a Church website.

MASKED MEN IN RESTAURANT A short video clip released by the Investigative Committee showed a man in jeans and a black shirt being detained in a restaurant by security officials with masks over their faces, escorted into a van and then being walked into a building. The suspect's face was blurred out.

Reuters was able to identify the restaurant shown in the clip as a cafe called Akademia in central Moscow. Westerners arrested under Russian security laws since the start of the Ukraine war have found themselves caught up in the deepest crisis in relations between Moscow and the West for more than 60 years.

Last year, U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested on suspicion of trying to obtain military secrets and charged with espionage, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Another American, Paul Whelan, was convicted in 2020 and is serving a 16-year sentence for spying. The United States has designated both as "wrongfully detained" and is seeking their release. Gordon Black, a U.S. soldier, was detained on May 2 by police in the far eastern city of Vladivostok and went on trial on Thursday on suspicion of stealing from his Russian girlfriend and threatening to kill her.

Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was arrested last October and is awaiting trial on charges including failing to register as a "foreign agent" - a designation that Russia applies to people and organisations it deems to be using foreign funding to conduct political activity, and which it has used extensively to clamp down on dissent.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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