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Russia arrests top hypersonic research scientist in treason case

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A Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile is fired from the guided missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov in the White Sea in this still image taken from video released July 19, 2019. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW, Aug 12 (Reuters) - A Russian court on Thursday ordered a 73-year-old leading specialist in hypersonic technology to be held in custody for two months on suspicion of state treason, the latest in a series of such cases.

Security officers arrested the suspect, Alexander Kuranov, general director of the St Petersburg-based Hypersonic Systems Research Facility, in Moscow, state news agency TASS cited a law enforcement source as saying.

Kuranov oversaw work on the concept for a new hypersonic aircraft dubbed Ayaks that dates back to the Soviet era, according to his facility's website. Hypersonic technology allows objects to travel much faster than the speed of sound.

Russia, whose ties with the West have deteriorated to post-Cold War lows since 2014, has been developing a number of hypersonic weapons in recent years that President Vladimir Putin has touted as unparalleled and lavished praise on.

The detainee is suspected of passing secret information to a foreign citizen about hypersonic technology research that he had worked on for a long time, Interfax news agency cited an unnamed source as saying.

Treason and espionage cases are usually held behind closed doors in Russia and case details seldom come to light because of their classified nature.

The court released footage of the detainee being led to the hearing in a tracksuit and hoodie pulled low over his face. He wore a face mask and his face could barely be seen.

A lawyer for Kuranov could not immediately be reached for comment.

State treason is punishable by up to 20 years in jail. That sentence was handed down to an aviation lecturer from Moscow in April after he was found guilty of illegally exporting technology or technical information. read more

A number of Russian scientists, soldiers and officials have been charged with treason in recent years after being accused of passing sensitive material to foreign countries.

Critics of the Kremlin say the charges are often unfounded and cannot be scrutinised because they are classified.

Reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Gleb Stolyrov Writing by Tom Balmforth Editing by Mark Heinrich

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