BERLIN – German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unnamed university on charges of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday in a case that risks further fueling bilateral tensions.
Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N, was detained on Friday on suspicion of “working for the Russian Secret Service since early October 2020 at the latest”.
Ilnur N. Unknown until the time of his arrest, was employed as a research assistant for a Department of Natural Science and Technology at a German university.
German investigators believe he met with a member of Russian intelligence at least three times between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he reportedly “delivered information from the domain of the university”.
He is suspected of receiving cash in return for his services.
During his arrest, the German government searched his home and office.
On Saturday, the accused was produced before the judge, from where he was taken on remand.
Neither the German nor the Russian government immediately commented on the matter.
However, Moscow is at loggerheads with many western capitals following the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.
Italy said this month that it had created a national cyber security agency after Prime Minister Mario Draghi warned that Europe needed to protect itself from Russian “interference”.
The move comes after an Italian Navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.
Leaders of nine Eastern European countries condemned Russian “aggressive acts” last month, citing operations in Ukraine and alleged “sabotage” on the Czech Republic.
Several Central and Eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague, but Russia has branded allegations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsion.
The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on multiple fronts, including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment after a fatal poisoning in Berlin.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has also worked to maintain the sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russian separatists and local forces.
And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyber attacks on its soil.
The most high-profile incident ever on Russian hackers was a 2015 cyber attack that completely paralyzed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution to go offline for a few days. was.
In February German prosecutors filed espionage charges against a German man who was suspected of passing parliament floor plans for the Russian secret services in 2017.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said last week that Germany was hoping to become a target of Russian disinformation for its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.
Russia denies being behind such activities.
Despite international criticism, Berlin has pushed ahead with plans to dismantle the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to double the supply of natural gas from Russia to Germany.