Russia arrests French scholar suspected of collecting intelligence

By Lucy Papachristou, Filipp Lebedev and Mark Trevelyan

LONDON (Reuters) -Russia said on Thursday it had detained a Frenchman suspected of gathering information about the Russian military, an incident French President Emmanuel Macron described as part of a campaign of disinformation by Moscow.

The Swiss-based nonprofit Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) said it was aware of the arrest of Laurent Vinatier, 47, who worked for the group as an adviser on Russia and Eurasia. Macron confirmed the arrest and denied Vinatier worked for the French state.

Russia's state Investigative Committee said the Frenchman was suspected over a period of several years to have "purposefully collected information in the field of military and military-technical activities of the Russian Federation" which could be used against the security of the state.

Investigators said the man, whom they did not identify by name, would be charged shortly under a Russian law on failing to register as a "foreign agent", which carries a punishment of up to five years in prison.

Describing the incident as an example of Russian propaganda, Macron told French television the man worked for a Swiss NGO founded by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, which conducts "diplomacy and discussion work".

"Under no circumstances is it someone who works for France," Macron said.

A representative of HD told Reuters: "We are working to get more details of the circumstances and to secure Laurent's release."

The website of HD says it has operated since 1999 to "help prevent, mitigate and resolve armed conflict through dialogue and mediation" in countries such as Spain, the Philippines and Libya.

Vinatier's LinkedIn page says he has been an adviser to the Eurasia/Russia Programme at HD for 10 years, based in Geneva.

He completed his PhD on the Chechen diaspora and has lectured on international relations and political economy at various European universities. He has authored several books and book chapters on Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Vinatier continued to spend time in Russia after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He met with representatives of the Moscow Orthodox Church in April 2022, according to a notice on a Church website.


A short video clip released by the Investigative Committee showed a man in jeans and a black shirt being detained in a central Moscow restaurant by security officials with masks over their faces. He was escorted into a van and led into a building. The suspect's face was blurred out.

Westerners arrested in Russia since the start of the Ukraine war have found themselves caught up in the crisis in relations between Moscow and the West.

Last year, U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested on suspicion of trying to obtain military secrets and charged with espionage, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Another American, Paul Whelan, was convicted in 2020 and is serving a 16-year sentence for spying. The United States has designated both as "wrongfully detained" and is seeking their release.

Gordon Black, a U.S. soldier, was detained on May 2 by police in the far eastern city of Vladivostok and went on trial on Thursday on suspicion of stealing from his Russian girlfriend and threatening to kill her.

Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was arrested last October and is awaiting trial on charges including failing to register as a "foreign agent" - a designation Russia applies to people and organisations it deems to be using foreign funding to conduct political activity, and which it has used extensively to clamp down on dissent.

(Reporting by Lucy Papachristou, Filipp Lebedev, Mark Trevelyan and Geert de Clercq and Jean Terzian; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Peter Graff)