Russian Authorities Detain French Citizen Accused Of Gathering Sensitive Military Data

Russian Authorities Detain French Citizen Accused Of Gathering Sensitive Military Data

By Tony O’Reilly-

Russian authorities have detained a French citizen, Laurent Vinatier, accused of gathering sensitive military information and failing to register as a “foreign agent”. The arrest comes in the wake of escalating diplomatic friction following French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on potentially deploying French troops in Ukraine.

Laurent Vinatier,(pictured) an adviser with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), a Geneva-based NGO, was arrested in Moscow on Thursday.

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Russian law enforcement has accused him of collecting information on Russia’s military and military-technical activities during repeated visits to the country. Under Russian law, failing to register as a foreign agent while conducting such activities is a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

Vinatier appeared in court on Friday, where he reportedly admitted his guilt, claiming ignorance of the registration requirement. He apologized to the court, and the judge ordered his remand in pre-trial detention until August 5.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue expressed its support for Vinatier, stating it was doing “everything possible to assist our colleague,” including securing legal representation and reaching out to Russian authorities for more information. The NGO, known for its efforts to mediate and resolve armed conflicts through discreet diplomacy, is actively seeking to understand the circumstances leading to Vinatier’s arrest.

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French President Emmanuel Macron clarified that Vinatier was not working for the French government, distancing official French operations from the incident. This clarification comes amidst strained relations between Paris and Moscow, particularly following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Vinatier’s detention is part of a broader pattern of arrests in Russia related to espionage and the collection of sensitive data, which has increased since the Ukraine conflict began. High-profile cases include the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges in March 2023 and US-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who was detained in October 2023 on similar charges to Vinatier’s.

The charges against Vinatier are based on a recently adopted law requiring anyone collecting information on military issues to register with the authorities as a foreign agent. Human rights activists have criticized this and other laws as part of a Kremlin crackdown on independent media and political activists, aimed at suppressing dissent and criticism of its actions in Ukraine.

Russian Legal Justifications

Russia’s Investigative Committee (SK) stated that Vinatier’s activities could potentially be used against the state’s security. A video released by the SK purportedly shows the moment of Vinatier’s arrest in a Moscow cafe, although his face is blurred in the footage.

The SK announced that a criminal case had been opened and that Vinatier would be formally charged soon. The committee emphasized the necessity of registering as a foreign agent for anyone receiving foreign support or operating under foreign influence, a law that has been used extensively to neutralize opposition within Russia and as grounds for detaining foreigners.

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