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German prosecutors say university researcher passed rocket secrets to Russia

BERLIN — German authorities said Thursday that a former research assistant at a university in Bavaria handed confidential information related to Europe’s Ariane rocket program to a Russian intelligence officer.

The accused — identified only as Ilnur N. — has been charged with passing on “information on research projects in the field of aerospace technology, in particular the various development stages of the European launcher Ariane,” to the Russian intelligence services for a total of €2,500.

The charges from the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office relate to “secret service activity,” according to a statement issued Thursday.

“From the end of November 2019, there were regular personal meetings between the accused and a senior officer of the Russian foreign intelligence service stationed in Germany,” the prosecutors said.

First developed in the 1970s, the Ariane rocket series is Europe’s own launcher system for getting satellites and other gear into orbit. In December, Ariane 5 was used to send the James Webb telescope into orbit. The latest iteration in the series — Ariane 6 — is due to launch for the first time from a space station in French Guiana later this year.

The defendant in the spying case was originally detained in June 2021 and has now been charged. The news comes amid worsening diplomatic ties between Berlin and Moscow.

In December, Germany expelled two Russian diplomats following a ruling from a Berlin court that the murder of a Chechen dissident had been carried out on behalf of the Russian government.

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