Germany puts Russian scientist on trial for space tech espionage

German prosecutors say the accused shared information about Europe’s Ariane space rocket programme to Moscow.

Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket lifting up from the launchpad
Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket lifting up from the launchpad in Kourou, French Guiana [File: Jody Amiet/AFP]

A Russian scientist working at a German university who was arrested last year for spying for Russia shared information about Europe’s Ariane space rocket programme, according to German prosecutors.

The accused, identified only as Ilnur N, has been charged with suspected secret service activity, federal prosecutors said on Thursday in a statement.

Ilnur was working at a Bavarian university when he was contacted by Russian foreign intelligence service SVR in 2019, they allege.

He “passed on information on research projects in the field of aerospace technology, in particular, the various development stages of the European launcher Ariane”, they said.

The European Space Agency’s Ariane programme consists of a series of transport rockets designed to ferry heavy loads, including satellites, into space.

According to prosecutors, Ilnur held “regular meetings” from late November 2019 onwards with the senior officer of Russia’s foreign intelligence service stationed in Germany.

He allegedly received 2,500 euros ($2,800) in cash in exchange for the information he shared, which also included details about his scientific research at the unnamed Bavarian university.

a Vulcain 2 engine for the Ariane 5 rocket
A Vulcain 2 engine for the Ariane 5 rocket at the PF50 tests stand at the ArianeGroup’s site in Vernon, France [File: Eric Piermont/AFP]

Ilnur was arrested last June on suspicion of spying for Moscow.

Prosecutors said he worked as a research assistant at the university’s natural sciences and technology department.

The case comes at a time of heightened tensions between Germany and Russia, as the West fears Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine.

Germany has seen a string of suspected cases of Russian espionage on its soil recently.

In October 2021, a German man was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence for passing on floor plans of parliament buildings to Russian secret services while employed by a security company.

In August, a former employee of the British embassy in Berlin was arrested on suspicion of having passed on documents to Russian intelligence.

Germany has also repeatedly accused Russia of cyber-espionage.

Source: News Agencies