Russian scientist Dmitry Kolker reportedly died on Saturday, two days after he was arrested in Novosibirsk, dragged from the ward where he was receiving treatment for stage four cancer, and whisked to the infamous Lefortovo prison in Moscow.
Kolker, 54, was arrested by Russia’s FSB security service on Thursday for allegedly collaborating with Chinese agents, presumably during his lecture visits to China. The government made few details of the case public.Kolker’s family insisted on his innocence and protested the cruelty of hauling the man out of a hospital ward, predicting he would not last long in the brutal Lefortovo facility. A Moscow court ordered him imprisoned for at least two months while the charges against him were investigated. He faced a sentence of up to 20 years for high treason.
Those predictions proved to be correct, as the family received a terse telegram informing them of his passing on Sunday.
“He died yesterday,” Kolker’s lawyer Aleksandr Fedulov said on Sunday. “Tomorrow we will lodge a complaint over his detention.”“The last contact I had with my father was at 6:15 p.m. on the flight to Moscow. He said he was saying goodbye,” Kolker’s son Maxim said after his death was announced.
“The investigator said the conditions were good, with a refrigerator in the prison cell. What refrigerator? The man can’t eat, he is fed intravenously. He is constantly vomiting. People don’t walk around in such condition,” Maxim Kolker complained.
“The FSB killed my father, they knew what state he was in, but they took him out of the hospital. Thank you, my country!!! His family didn’t even have permission to say goodbye to him,” he said in a bitter social media post on Sunday.
“Stage four pancreatic cancer is a verdict. But to face such a verdict not at home, but within the walls of a detention center without proper medical care is the worst thing that can happen to a person,” Kolker’s daughter Alina Mironova said.
The Siberian Times recalled that in addition to his scientific achievements, Kolker was also a concert pianist:
Novosibirsk scientist Dmitry Kolker, pulled out of hospital 7am on 30 June, arrested for suspected state treason & flown to Moscow died on 2 July. ‘They killed my father. Thank you country’, said Dmitry’s son. Video of Dmitry playing Dieterich Buxtehude Toccata in Dminor in 2018 pic.twitter.com/RZhM7ujZN8
— The Siberian Times (@siberian_times) July 3, 2022
“Putin is seeing spies everywhere,” one of Kolker’s colleagues told the UK Daily Mail. “Top scientists were officially urged to collaborate with top foreign partners [and] did so. Now they are being accused of espionage.”
Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported Sunday that another scientist from Siberia, 75-year-old Anatoly Maslov of the Institute of Theoretical and Practical Mechanics at the Siberian Academy of Sciences, is being detained at Lefortovo in connection with the same investigation.
The Daily Mail noted that Kolker was an expert in laser technology, which has some military applications, while fellow detained Siberian scientist Maslov is an expert in hypersonic aircraft who has worked with German scientists and America’s Boeing aeronautics giant, in addition to the Chinese. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has placed great emphasis on hypersonic missiles as key to maintaining military parity with the United States and NATO.
Russia and China are ostensibly allies with an increasingly close relationship, which makes the vicious treatment of a scientist vaguely accused of collaborating with the Chinese a little incongruous.
The fate of Kolker and Maslov might be meant as a warning to Russian researchers tempted by Chinese overtures like the Thousand Talents Program, an aggressive Chinese scheme to recruit foreign brainpower that led to several espionage and intellectual property theft investigations in the United States. Many of those investigations involved American academics engaging in behavior similar to what Kolker was broadly accused of, such as collaborating with Chinese researchers or even holding positions at Chinese universities.