Staunton, August 28 -- Between 2003 and 2009, 276 Russians were convicted of treason, while between 2015 and 2019, more than 2600 were, an increase of almost ten times in the number of those found guilty of treason, espionage, revealing state secrets, extremism and creating extremist groups.
These figures, just released by the Russian Supreme Court (znak.com/2020-08-28/v_rossii_chislo_osuzhdennyh_za_gosizmenu_shpionazh_i_ekstremizm_vyroslo_pochti_v_10_raz_s_2007_goda), show that the sharpest increase occurred between 2007 and 2008. In the former year, 84 people were convicted of these crimes; in the latter, 143. But the largest annual total was in 2017 when 645 were found guilty.
There was a sharp decline in such convictions in 2019. In that year, only 276 people were convicted of these crimes, compared to 607 the year before, a figure still greater than a decade earlier. According to Damir Gaynutdinov of the Agora human rights group, this reflected changes in the law which decriminalized some of what had been crimes.
For the Russian authorities as for any government, arresting and charging individuals with treason and espionage often represent serious problems. On the one hand, it underscores the vigilance of the authorities against what Moscow views as the hostile world surrounding the Russian Federation.
But on the other and far more than in the case of ordinary crimes, such cases inevitably raise questions about why the state hadn’t managed to protect the country better and sooner – and even why individuals may feel driven to take such drastic steps because of the situation they find themselves in Russia today.