By Dmitry Zaks (AFP) – Feb 10, 2012
MOSCOW — A Russian space engineer received a 13-year jail sentence Friday on charges of passing secret strategic missile data to the US Central Intelligence Agency in return for cash.
Russia's FSB security service said test engineer Vladimir Nesterets from the northern Plesetsk cosmodrome admitted receiving payments for information about "tests on Russia's latest strategic missile systems."
The security service refused to specify the types of systems involved in the case or the size of the payments.
But analysts called the apparent security breach a significant blow for Russia because its armed forces use the northwestern site to test and launch every type of missile in production and development today.
"This is the Russian strategic missile forces' main launch site," independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said. "All current mobile systems and their warheads are launched from and tested at Plesetsk."
The military is currently developing a new generation of missiles and warheads that Moscow hopes will soon replace an ageing Soviet-era arsenal that was developed at great expense at the height of the Cold War.
The powerful weapons are meant to penetrate the various defences designed by Washington and remain instrumental to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's promise of overseeing a military resurgence if elected to a third term as president in March.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda daily said Nesterets had himself volunteered the information to the CIA and received just $1,000 because he worked with the older generation Topol-M model in service for more than 15 years.
"The CIA will take anything about the Russian military -- even if the information turns out to be rather old," Felgenhauer said.
Undated footage on Channel One state television showed Nesterets being detained by two plainclothes security officers as he was getting out of his car at a parking lot and then led away with his hands cuffed behind his back.
"He wrote to me and said that he never did anything shameful, that he did not betray his motherland," Nesterets wife Irina told the RIA Novosti news agency.
"Why was he arrested? They did not catch him red handed," she said.
Nesterets' conviction came just days after Russia's outgoing leader Dmitry Medvedev told an FSB meeting that foreign governments were stepping up their spying activities in the country.
Medvedev said the FSB had uncovered 199 foreign spies and agents last year. He added that some of those detained were Russian nationals working for Western states.
Russia often discloses the arrest or conviction of foreign agents at a time of diplomatic tensions with the West.
Moscow is currently locked in a heated war of words with Washington and Europe over the Syria crisis and is also upset at NATO plans to push ahead with the deployment of a new missile defence system in Europe.
The FSB in October disclosed holding a Chinese national on espionage charges linked to another missile system. The case was announced on the eve of a key visit to Beijing by Putin.
"These cases are not publicised when relations with the West are normal. The arrests are still made but no information goes out," Felgenhauer said.
"The fact that they disclosed this now means that we are playing diplomatic games again," added analyst Alexander Konovalov of the Centre for Strategic Assessment.
"Anti-Americanism is fashionable in Russia again," Konovalov told AFP.
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