Valery Mitko, President of Russia’s Arctic Academy of Sciences, is charged with passing confidential state secrets to China. Credit: Twitter photo.

It was February 11 and professor Valery Mitko and his wife were asleep when the apartment doorbell began to ring at seven o’clock in the morning.

The visitors were not friendly — six mysterious men dressed in civilian garb told him he was being taken in for interrogation.

As Mitko was taken away to Bolshoi Dom, the FSB headquarters on Liteyny Prospect in St. Petersburg, his wife Tatyana was presented a search warrant. The extensive search lasted until late that evening and the FSB officers literally took all papers in the apartment.

On Monday this past week, his lawyer Ivan Pavlov went public and said professor Mitko is charged with high treason in the form of espionage, Thomas Nilsen of The Barents Times reported.

Mitko’s alleged crime is that during a trip to China he allegedly handed over classified materials to Chinese intelligence.

Mitko vehemently denies all allegations, Pavlov says in a background article posted by his his association Team 29’s portal, the report said.

State run news agency TASS, quoting officials familiar with the case, reports that Russian authorities believe that Mitko gave China information on research on hydro-acoustics and submarine detection methods.

The prosecution claims Mitko brought a document containing characteristics of Russian submarine designs, saying he is one of Russia’s leading experts on the subject, the report said.

According to lawyer Ivan Pavlov, the professor has traveled several times to China for teaching purposes, visiting the Dalian University in Liaoning province.

After graduation in 1963, Mitko served with the Pacific Fleet, where he first went on a voyage along the Northern Sea Route in Russia’s Arctic waters. In 1969, as Captain of 1st rank, he left the navy but continued to study the Arctic and became Doctor of Technical Science. In 2003, he initiated the Academy of Arctic Sciences.

In 2019, professor Mitko published a 252-page volume about geopolitical factors determining the Arctic mission of Russia, the report said.

In Russian Arctic social science, Mitko is well-known and respected, with more than 400 scientific works to his name in Russia and abroad. He has also published two textbooks and has been awarded 24 medals.

Mitko is now under house arrest awaiting trial, while Pavlov has appealed the house arrest ruling, the report said.

Quoting his comment to the charges, the Team29 article writes: “I consider myself a patriot of my country and have throughout life been devoted to serve the interests of the USSR and Russia. I didn’t commit any crimes, especially not treason. I have nothing more to add.”

Treason charges against researchers and scientists have become a regular occurrence in Russia in recent years, Radio Free Europe reported.

The news about Mitko comes four days after a Russian court granted early release to a 79-year-old former space researcher, Vladimir Lapygin, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2016 on a treason conviction and recognized as a political prisoner by the rights group Memorial.

Lapygin, who worked for a research branch of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, was also found guilty of handing classified materials to China, which he denied as well.