The warning was part of an open letter written by the colleagues of three scientists working on Russia's hypersonic missiles who were recently hit with charges of treason.
The scientists involved were all employees of the Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics in Siberia and were detained on suspicions of high treason. However, the letter 's authors maintained that the men are innocent and that their academic achievements are honorable. The letter pointed out that the men – Alexander Shiplyuk, Valery Zvegintsev and Anatoly Maslov – opted to remain in Russia instead of taking on more prestigious and highly paid work overseas.
Shipyluk and Maslov were arrested last summer, while news of Zvegintsev’s arrest came this month. Shipyluk was in charge of the institute's hypersonic technologies lab, while Maslov is a respected expert in aero gas dynamics. At the time that news of Maslov's arrest was reported, the institute released an open letter supporting him and started raising money for the families of the two scientists to help with legal expenses. Maslov's case is reportedly being investigated by the Russian secret service.
Those behind the letter are taking a serious risk in defending individuals charged with treason, which can carry a maximum sentence of life in jail after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legal amendments last month raising the penalty for treason from 20 years in prison.
However, they believe that the men might have been arrested just for doing their jobs, including participating in international scientific projects and presenting research at conferences. According to the letter, the men's work was checked by the institute on multiple occasions to make sure it did not contain any “restricted information.”
The letter stated: “In this situation, we are not only afraid for the fate of our colleagues. We just do not understand how to continue to do our job.” It also voiced concerns about the potential for “a rapid decline in the level of research” if employees are too scared of possible arrest to perform their work.
In fact, they fear high-profile cases like these could discourage young scientists in Russia from remaining in the field, which could have the effect of setting back Russia’s scientific endeavors significantly. It could be much like what happened when the Soviet Union collapsed and the country experienced significant “brain drain” as talent left the country. The letter cautioned: “Domestic science may not endure the second such blow.”
While the Kremlin is reportedly aware of the letter defending the scientists, a spokesperson said the matter would be dealt with by Russian special services. He added: “This is a very serious accusation.”
At the same time, Kiev has been claiming that air defense systems it received from the U.S. have managed to shoot a number of Russia’s hypersonic missiles down – the same missiles Putin has boasted in the past are pretty much unstoppable. He has characterized them as being “unrivaled in the world.” Ukraine claims that it shot down six of Russia’s Kinzhal missiles in a single night last week, although Moscow disputes this account.
The British Defense Ministry said that Russia was likely surprised and embarrassed by its missiles’ vulnerability. The former chief of the Ukrainian foreign intelligence service, Mykola Malomuzh, told the media in Ukraine that the missiles’ effectiveness hasn’t lived up to the hype and that Putin may feel like the Kinzhal’s developers deceived him about its capabilities.
Sources for this article include: