Putin Targets Scientists of Revolutionary Hypersonic Missiles

Russia's Scientific Community Faces Unprecedented Legal Challenges

by Zain ul Abedin
Putin Targets Scientists of Revolutionary Hypersonic Missiles
© Pool/Getty Images

In a series of events that have sent shockwaves through the scientific community, at least twelve Russian scientists have been detained under what are believed to be politically motivated charges. These arrests are closely linked to President Vladimir Putin's highly publicized hypersonic missile program, a cornerstone of Russia's military advancements.

This development comes amid rising tensions and extensive scrutiny of Russia's defense capabilities. The detained scientists were reportedly associated with Russia's cutting-edge hypersonic missile program, a project that President Putin has proudly paraded as a symbol of Moscow's military prowess.

In a bold declaration to Russian lawmakers in March 2018, Putin extolled the virtues of these "super weapons," touting their speed, agility, and the challenges they pose to conventional missile defense systems. The Kh-24 Kinzhal ("Dagger"), a prominent product of this program, has been actively employed by Russian forces in Ukraine, targeting key infrastructure.

The arrests have raised critical concerns about the safety and freedom of scientific collaboration in Russia. According to BBC Russian, the scientists, many of whom were not directly involved in weapons development, faced accusations of transferring sensitive information about the missile program to foreign nations.

These allegations imply significant risks for those engaged in even the most fundamental scientific cooperation with international partners.

Arrests Rock Russian Science

Key institutions involved include the Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (TsNIIMash) and the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI) in Moscow, along with the Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (ITPM) in Siberia.

High-profile arrests from these institutes, including ITPM director Alexander Shiplyuk and researchers Anatoly Maslov and Valery Zvegintsev, have intensified the controversy. Accused of passing secrets to China, these scientists have countered that the information was publicly accessible, sparking an outcry from their peers and an open letter warning of the detrimental impact on Russian science.

The case of TsAGI physicist Anatoly Gubanov exemplifies the severity of the situation. Sentenced to 12 years in a maximum-security colony, Gubanov vehemently denied allegations of sharing materials with Dutch colleagues, emphasizing his involvement in civilian projects like the HEXAFLY-INT, an endeavor to develop the world's first civil hypersonic airliner.

Adding to the gravity of these events, three scientists have tragically passed away since their arrests, including 78-year-old Vladimir Kudryavtsev of TsNIIMash, who succumbed to cancer complications before his trial. Their deaths, along with the litany of accusations and the harsh sentences meted out, paint a bleak picture of the state of scientific freedom in Russia.

As these developments unfold, the international scientific community watches with bated breath, concerned about the future of collaborative research and the implications for global scientific progress and diplomacy.