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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scientists On Trial for Espionage

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East -- Two scientists went on trial in Vladivostok on Wednesday on charges of attempting to pass technology to China that could be used for military purposes.

Vladimir Shchurov, one of the defendants, dismissed the charges against him and his colleague Yury Khvorostov, saying they stem from a research project that had the approval of the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

The project was a joint effort between the Pacific Oceanological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where Shchurov is a laboratory chief, and China's Harbin Engineering University, he said.

The team studied ocean noises and signals using acoustic gauges developed by Shchurov. The FSB claims the equipment could be used for military purposes such as detecting submarines, but Shchurov has insisted that his research had no military applications.

"I'm not an expert in the creation of hydro-acoustic weapons," Shchurov said.

He said that given miserly state funding, scientists often have to look for foreign research institutions willing to help fund their work. The deal he had with China's Harbin was worth $80,000, a substantial sum considering his monthly salary of 800 rubles ($29).

Shchurov said his project had approval from the FSB, but he accused it of failing to shed the Soviet-era mentality of its predecessor, the KGB. The agency, he said, is too quick to chase down researchers if it suspects their work could be harmful to Russia.

"The FSB acts as a parasite on the scientific corps," Shchurov said.

Scientists "are a very easy prey to show off its work," he added.

Shchurov said his problems began in 1999 when customs agents seized two acoustic gauges that he had sent to China to continue the joint research.The security service charged him with trading in dual-purpose technology, attempting to smuggle the gauges, and divulging state secrets contained in the results of the joint research.

Khvorostov faces the same charges except for divulging state secrets.

If found guilty, the scientists face up to 15 years in jail.