Frenchman pleads guilty in Russia for not registering as foreign agent

Published June 8, 2024
French national Laurent Vinatier, an adviser to a Swiss non-profit organisation,  stands inside an enclosure for defendants during a court hearing in Moscow.—Reuters
French national Laurent Vinatier, an adviser to a Swiss non-profit organisation, stands inside an enclosure for defendants during a court hearing in Moscow.—Reuters

MOSCOW: French researcher Laurent Vinatier pleaded guilty in a Moscow court on Friday to a charge of failing to register as a foreign agent while gathering information on the Russian military.

Vinatier, 47, could face up to five years in prison. He was placed in pre-trial custody until Aug 5, despite a request to free him endorsed by the French embassy.

“I apologise for not registering as a foreign agent. The most upsetting thing is that throughout the 10 years of my work I tried to defend Russia and its interests,” state news agency RIA quoted him as saying in court.

Vinatier is a Russia specialist and adviser to HD, a Swiss-based conflict mediation group whose full name is the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

A short video posted by the Moscow courts service showed the Frenchman being led in handcuffs into the courtroom and ushered into a barred metal cage at the start of the hearing.

He joins a growing list of foreign nationals detained in Russia who have found themselves caught up in the crisis in relations between Russia and the West during the Ukraine war.

US reporter Evan Gershkovich is awaiting trial on spy charges and Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva for failing to register as a foreign agent. Another American, Paul Whelan, was jailed for 16 years in 2020. All deny any guilt, and the US has accused Moscow of conducting “hostage diplomacy”.

Gordon Black, a US soldier, went on trial in Russia’s Far East on Thursday on suspicion of stealing from his Russian girlfriend and threatening to kill her.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday denied Vinatier worked for the French state and described his arrest as part of a campaign of disinformation by Moscow. Under Russian law, a person is obliged to contact the justice ministry and register as a foreign agent if they are involved in political activity or collecting military information.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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