Monday, June 17

Russia Detains a French National Suspected of Collecting Military Data

Russian investigators said on Thursday that they had detained a French national in Moscow on suspicion of collecting intelligence about activities of the Russian military, adding to a list of foreign citizens held in the country since the invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian state news agency TASS identified the detained individual, citing its sources in law enforcement, as Laurent Vinatier. The agency said Mr. Vinatier was employed as a consultant at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Swiss-based nonprofit.

On its website, the center states that its mission is to “prevent and resolve armed conflicts around the world through mediation and discreet diplomacy.”

Responding to a request for comment, the nonprofit confirmed that Mr. Vinatier worked as an adviser and that he had been detained in Russia.

“We are working to get more details of the circumstances and to secure Laurent’s release,” the center said.

Mr. Vinatier has worked with the nonprofit since 2014 as adviser in its Russia/Eurasia program, according to his profile on the social network LinkedIn. He listed “facilitating meetings,” “meditating” and “passing messages” as among his duties. He also worked as a risk adviser, researcher and lecturer at various schools and institutes, with Russia as his primary focus.

President Emmanuel Macron of France took note of the arrest in remarks during a televised interview Thursday night.

“One of our compatriots has been arrested in Russia,” Mr. Macron said. He did not identify the man but said he worked for a Swiss nongovernmental organization — not the French government.

“In no way was this someone who worked for France,” Mr. Macron said. French authorities are remaining “very vigilant” and will provide all necessary consular protections for the man who was arrested, he added.

Since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine, Western journalists and researchers visiting or living in Russia have found it increasingly risky to work in the country as they have gotten caught up in the worst crisis in relations between Moscow and Western states in decades.

Russia’s state Investigative Committee said in a statement that the detained French national would be charged for failing to register as a “foreign agent,” a charge that carries a punishment of up to five years in prison.

The statement said that during repeated visits to Russia, the detained individual had held meetings with Russian citizens to “purposefully collect information in the field of military and military-technical activities of Russia” and that this information “can be used against the security of the state.”

The agency published a video in which it showed security officials detaining a man in jeans and a black shirt who was sitting at a veranda outside a restaurant in central Moscow. The man’s face was blurred in the video.

Mr. Vinatier has joined a list of Westerners in Russian custody including Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal; Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine; and Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

On Wednesday a court in St. Petersburg said that it had sentenced Yuri Malev, a Russian American national, to three and a half years in a penal colony after he posted memes and other posts that criticized the country, its leadership and its war in Ukraine on social media.

The detentions of Westerners in Russia in recent years have raised fears that the Kremlin is seeking to use them as bargaining chips to be exchanged for Russian individuals held in the West.

Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting.