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Former journalist denies passing Russian military secrets to NATO country

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By Galina Polonskaya  & Michael Daventry
Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's state space corporation, appeared in a Moscow courtroom on Tuesday
Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's state space corporation, appeared in a Moscow courtroom on Tuesday   -   Copyright  Sofia Sandurskaya/Moscow News Agency

A Russian former journalist arrested on suspicion of passing state secrets to a NATO country has denied allegations that he was spying.

Ivan Safronov faces up to 20 years in prison if he is found guilty of providing the information, which according to Russia’s FSB state security service covered military and security issues.

He was detained outside his Moscow home on Tuesday.

Safronov was an adviser to Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Roscosmos space agency. He previously worked for two major daily newspapers where he made a name through for his reporting on military issues.

Some of his former journalism colleagues staged a protest outside the FSB headquarters demanding his immediate release.

“No one else used to get such exclusives that Ivan managed to get,” said Kiril Krivosheev, a foreign policy correspondent at Kommersant, one of the newspapers where Safronov worked.

“This is the professional duty of a journalist to get sensitive, important information, given how Ivan worked, of course, his work could have angered many.”

Safronov was fired from Kommersant a year ago for an article predicting that the Russian upper house speaker was about to leave her post.

The report turned out to be incorrect, but the newspaper’s entire politics desk resigned in protest at his dismissal.

Gleb Cherkasov, the deputy editor-in-chief back then, was amongst those who resigned. He told Euronews that his arrest was linked with Ivan’s work as a journalist.

“This is a very unpleasant sign for the entire journalist community. I think they want that that no-one does journalism anymore, except for rewriting press-releases,” he said.

The FSB said Safronov transmitted classified information about Russia’s military deals, national defence and security to the intelligence service of a NATO country.

The country was not named.

“He is accused of treason, of the transfer of secret data to foreign intelligence,” said Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman said.

“As far as we are aware, this detention is not connected with the journalist’s activities, which Ivan Safronov had previously been involved in.”

In a separate statement, Roscosmos said the charges did not relate to Safronov’s work for the space agency.