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Russia detains Frenchman on charges of military espionage

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Moscow says it has arrested a French citizen accused of collecting information about Russia’s military activities and failing to register as a “foreign agent.”

“Such information, if obtained from foreign sources, could be used against the security of the state,” Russia’s Investigative Committee (SK) said.

It also posted footage purporting to show the arrest of the unnamed male suspect in a Moscow cafe.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the man did not work for France.

A Switzerland-based NGO later said its adviser Laurent Vinatier was being held in the Russian capital.

“We are aware that Laurent Vinatier, an advisor at the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), has been detained in Russia,” a spokesperson for the non-governmental organization told AFP news agency.

“We are working to obtain more details about the circumstances and secure Laurent’s release,” he added.

The NGO states that its main activity is “the prevention and resolution of armed conflicts around the world through mediation and discreet diplomacy”.

Later on Thursday, President Macron said the detained man was “in no way someone who worked for France.”

Relations between Paris and Moscow are tense due to Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

In a statement on Thursday, the SK said a criminal case had been opened and the suspect would be charged in the “nearest future.”

The Frenchman is said to have repeatedly visited Russia for a number of years and had meetings with Russian nationals.

The 19-second video released by the SK shows a man, whose face is blurred, being detained by Russian law enforcement officers before being led away to an SK van.

The Frenchman is also accused of failing to submit documents necessary for “inclusion in the register of foreign agents”.

Russia requires anyone who receives foreign support or is under foreign influence to declare themselves such an agent. It has used the 2012 law to crush any opposition in the country to President Vladimir Putin, and also as a pretext to detain people, including foreigners.

Last year, Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was arrested on a similar charge.

The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.

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