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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Map Enthusiast Jailed on U.S. Spy Charges

Moscow City CourtCartographer and map enthusiast Gennady Sipachyov, who was convicted of espionage during a closed trial.

A Moscow court sentenced a map enthusiast to four years in prison on Thursday for passing classified information to the United States that one report said could help the U.S. military in a missile strike against Russia.

The trial looked unlikely to upset U.S.-Russian relations, which have rebounded since U.S. President Barack Obama announced a "reset" last year and, among other things, ditched a plan to place an anti-missile shield in Central Europe that Moscow saw as a security threat.

But fears of Russia's vulnerability to a U.S. strike have been voiced in hawkish Russian circles after Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START agreement to cut nuclear arms in April, and a retired Russian general warned on Thursday that the country's air defenses were weak.

The Moscow City Court said cartographer Gennady Sipachyov was convicted of espionage during a closed trial for sending secret maps belonging to the Russian military's General Staff to the Pentagon over the Internet.

Espionage is usually punished by up to 20 years in prison, and Sipachyov got a milder sentence because he agreed to cooperate with investigators, the court said in a statement on its web site.

The judges ruled that the maps sent to the United States could be used "to increase the accuracy of missile strikes,” RIA-Novosti reported.

The court statement said Sipachyov was detained by Federal Security Service agents in 2008 but offered no further information about him, except for a photograph that showed a middle-aged man with glasses.

Sipachyov worked as a researcher in a defense scientific institute, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported on its web site.

A court spokeswoman said she would not comment further on the case because it had been closed to the public.

Calls to the U.S. Embassy for comment went unanswered late Thursday afternoon.

According to online map communities, Sipachyov was an avid cartographer who researched both modern and historical Russian maps. Maps designed by him are posted on various specialist web sites.

"If you need maps of 1:100,000 and 1:200,000 scales, please write to Sipachyov, Gennady Stepanovich. … I have exchanged maps with him,” said an anonymous user on the site, dedicated to outdoor and water sports.

Sipachyov's patronymic, Stepanovich, is matched by the court statement.

Andrei Soldatov, a security expert and head of the think tank, said Sipachyov's light sentence signaled that the state wanted offenders to collaborate with the authorities.

“Previously, they wanted to show that the punishment for treason needed to be severe, but today the trend is different,” he said.

The FSB's web site even urges citizens who collaborate with foreign intelligence organizations to report this to the FSB.

Soldatov said Sipachyov fared better than Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear arms researcher who was detained in 1999 on suspicion of passing military data to a British consulting company and was later sentenced to 15 years in prison for espionage. Sutyagin has said he collected the data from open sources. He was denied parole by a court in Archangelsk on April 30.

Meanwhile, former Air Force commander Anatoly Kornukov warned that Russia's ability to protect itself from enemy attack was limited because of its aging air defense weapons and dilapidated defense industry.

"Regrettably, our air defense forces only have a limited capability to protect the nation's security," Kornukov said at a news conference, The Associated Press reported.

He said Russia was lagging 25 to 30 years behind the United States in developing air defense weapons and was capable of only shooting down 20 out of every 100 intruding enemy planes, compared with up to 98 out of 100 in Soviet times.

"The situation is simply terrible," he said.

The government, which has plowed enormous sums into the armed forces in recent years, has declared that they are growing stronger. But an ongoing reform of the military by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has angered some officers.

Sipachyov's case is not the first linking maps and espionage in post-Soviet history. In 1995, Alexander Volkov, a former colonel who worked for a company linked to the military’s Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, was arrested while passing satellite maps of Israel to an official from the Israeli Embassy in Moscow.

Volkov, who claimed that he was unaware of the maps' secrecy was freed, but a co-defendant, GRU officer Vladimir Tkachenko, was sentenced to three years in prison.