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A French citizen pleads guilty to charges of collecting military data in Russia, state media say

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MOSCOW (AP) — A French citizen arrested in Russia has pleaded guilty to criminal charges involving illegally collecting information on military issues in the country, state news agency Tass said Wednesday.

Laurent Vinatier was arrested in the Russian capital in June as tensions flared between Moscow and Paris following French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments about the possibility of deploying French troops in Ukraine.

Russian authorities accused Vinatier of failing to register as a “foreign agent” while collecting information about Russia’s “military and military-technical activities” which could be used to the detriment of the country’s security.

Under Russian law, the offense is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Vinatier is an adviser with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Geneva-based nongovernmental organization. A judge previously ordered him to be remanded in pretrial detention until Aug. 5.

The NGO said in June it was doing “everything possible to assist our colleague Laurent,” including by helping to secure legal representation for him.

Russia’s Federal Security Service said Wednesday that during his visits to Moscow, Vinatier “established numerous contacts with representatives of the expert and scientific community,” including political scientists, sociologists, economists, military experts and government officials, the Russian Interfax news agency said.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said Wednesday that it questioned seven witnesses “with whom the accused held meetings to collect information in the field of military and military-technical activities,” Tass said.

It said authorities ordered a “linguistic forensic examination” of audio recordings of the meetings and electronics that were seized from Vinatier.

Vinatier admitted his guilt while being questioned, Tass said, citing the Investigative Committee.

The report did not explain why there were audio recordings of the meetings and said that Vinatier’s “criminal activities” were stopped by the Investigative Committee and Russia’s Federal Security Service.

The charges against Vinatier stem from a recently adopted law that requires anyone who collects information on military issues to register with authorities as a foreign agent.

Human rights activists have criticized the law and other recent legislation as part of a multi-pronged Kremlin crackdown on independent media and political activists intended to stifle criticism of its actions in Ukraine.

Arrests on charges of spying and collecting sensitive data have become increasingly frequent in Russia since it sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Recent high-profile arrests include Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges in March 2023, and U.S.-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who was taken into custody in October 2023 on the same charges as Vinatier.

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