Three of Russian president, Vladimir Putin’s top hypersonic scientists have been arrested on suspicion of high treason, after Ukraine shot down several hypersonic missiles the Russian leader claimed were ‘undefeatable’.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the eminent scientists, Anatoly Maslov, Alexander Shiplyuk and Valery Zvegintsev, all face ‘very serious accusations’.
The three scientists have all worked on the weapons for years and were among the authors of a book chapter entitled ‘Hypersonic Short-Duration Facilities for Aerodynamic Research at ITAM, Russia’.
Putin for years boasted that Russia is the global leader in hypersonic missiles and unveiled his ‘Kinzhal’ rockets in 2018, hailing them as ‘undefeatable’ by any present or future defence systems.
But he faced fresh disappoinment on Tuesday, May 16 when Ukraine said it had destroyed six of them in a single night.
The downing of all missiles have created unrest within the Russian leadership as they believe they were lied to by the scientists.
The arrests have spread alarm through Russia’s scientific community.
Colleagues of the three men published an open letter protesting their innocence and warning the prosecutions posed serious risk to Russian science.
‘We know each of them as a patriot and a decent person who is not capable of doing what the investigating authorities suspect them of,’ they said.‘
In this situation, we are not only afraid for the fate of our colleagues. We just do not understand how to continue to do our job.’
The letter cited the case of Dmitry Kolker, a Siberian scientist who was arrested last year on suspicion of state treason and flown to Moscow despite suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer.
The laser specialist died two days later. It said such cases were having a bad effect on young Russian scientists, as most would not want to work for the country and would rather travel to other countries.
‘Even now, the best students refuse to come to work with us, and our best young employees are leaving science,’ the letter stated.
‘A number of research areas that are critically important to laying the fundamental groundwork for the aerospace technology of the future are simply closing because employees are afraid to engage in such research.’
Asked about the letter, Peskov said: ‘We have indeed seen this appeal, but Russian special services are working on this. They are doing their job. These are very serious accusations.’
Russia began using the Kinzhal, which means ‘dagger’, to strike targets in Ukraine early in the invasion.
But it has used the expensive weapon sparingly and against priority targets.
The Kinzhal is an air-launched ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads. Ukraine said six of them were fired on Tuesday.
– It has a reported range of 1,500 to 2,000 km (930 to 1,240 miles) while carrying a payload of 480 kg. It may reach speeds of up to Mach 10 (12,250 kph).