June 16, 2024

Russia detains French man accused of gathering military intelligence

French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed on Thursday that a French national had been detained in Moscow, but denied that the man was working for the French government.

“In no way was he working for France. Now we are very vigilant, he will receive all the consular protections that apply in such a case. I want to say the truth in the face of the brainwashing that we hear,” Macron said.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said earlier on Thursday that a French citizen, employed by the non-profit Swiss Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, was detained on suspicion of “collecting information in the field of military activities of the Russian Federation.”

Video released by the Investigative Committee showed the man being arrested by security personnel at a cafe in Moscow and escorted into a military van.

The Investigative Committee alleges the French national had been gathering information on Russia’s “military and military-technical activities” for several years and didn’t register as a foreign agent.

“For these purposes, he repeatedly visited the territory of Russia, including the city of Moscow, where he held meetings with citizens of the Russian Federation,” the Investigative Committee said.

An Investigative Committee official told Russian state news agency TASS that the man worked as a consultant at the non-profit handling Eurasian issues after the February 2014 events in Ukraine, including the mass pro-democracy protests that swept Kyiv and the exit of the pro-Russian, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

CNN has reached out to the French Foreign Ministry and the Swiss Center for Humanitarian Dialogue for comment.

Relations between both countries became strained when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago.

Several Westerners have found themselves detained in the country amid the rising tensions.

US-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was detained last year in the Russian city of Kazan while waiting for a return flight to the Czech Republic, where she was based. She had arrived in Russia in May due to an urgent family matter, according to her employer the US-funded Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and was accused of refusing to register as a foreign agent.

Russia expanded its law on “foreign agents” in 2022, signaling an intensifying crackdown on free speech and opposition under Putin. Since then, not only individuals or organizations receiving funding from abroad are regarded as foreign agents but also anyone who has “received support and (or) is under foreign influence.”

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested on a work trip in 2023 and charged with espionage — accusations he and his employer vehemently deny. He has yet to face trial, and his pre-trial detention was extended until June 30. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

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