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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reporter Planned Story on Arms Deal

Before his mysterious death, Kommersant journalist Ivan Safronov was on the verge of reporting a story about sensitive arms deals with Syria and Iran despite warnings that he would be prosecuted for disclosing classified information, it was reported Tuesday.

Kommersant reported that Safronov planned to file a story on the sale of Iskander surface-to-surface missiles and SU-30 fighters to Syria, and S-300 air defense systems to Iran. The newspaper added that the story was sure to have prompted a Federal Security Service, or FSB, investigation into disclosure of classified information.

The United States and Israel have lodged strong protests when arms deals between Russia and Syria have been reported.

In particular, Safronov's article last year on plans to sell Iskanders to Syria caused an uproar in Tel Aviv and Washington. Fired from Syria, Islander missiles can hit targets across Israel.

Safronov repeatedly dismayed the defense and security establishment by reporting on secretive arms deals and military mishaps -- for example, abortive test launches of submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

He did this work because it was his job, not because he was a political opponent of the Russian authorities, said Kommersant's deputy editor, Ilya Bulavinov.

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, Bulavinov lamented "the hysteria" surrounding Safronov's death in the Western media, which has drawn parallels between the Kommersant reporter's death and those of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.

Safronov had been subject to earlier investigations for his articles on the arms trade, but these probes did not lead to formal charges.

But this time the journalist had been warned that the investigation into his story "would be completed," Safronov was reported to have told fellow journalists Feb. 27, Kommersant reported.

The FSB declined to comment immediately.

Safronov apparently never said who had issued the warning, but he did say he had been dissuaded from writing his article. He later changed his mind, telling his editors he planned to file a story. He never did.

Three days later, Safronov fell out of a fifth-floor window of the apartment building where he lived, on Ulitsa Nizhegorodskaya in southeast Moscow.

Safronov's family, friends and colleagues maintain that the journalist, known for his beaming smile and sense of humor, had no reason to kill himself. He was happily married, they say, and was devoted to taking care of his elderly mother.

In the 48-hour period prior to his death, Safronov appears to have received calls only from colleagues, friends and relatives.

Kommersant is conducting its own investigation into the case. So is the Russian Union of Journalists.

The Public Chamber said it would set up a working group to keep an eye on prosecutors' investigation.

Staff Writer Svetlana Osadchuk contributed to this report.