A Ukrainian man was arrested by Russian intelligence agents last month for allegedly trying to steal industrial secrets from Russian companies, Russian authorities announced Tuesday. The undisclosed information Sergey Skirta allegedly sought to pass on to Ukrainian companies for a fee could have potentially caused millions of rubles in damage, according to media reports.
Russian state media called the 34-year-old suspect a “Ukrainian spy” with links to a Ukrainian industrial manufacturer, Concern Ukrrosmetal, which produces industrial-grade compressors and specialty industrial components, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. A spokesman for the company didn’t comment on the allegations against Skirta, nor did he confirm his position at the company.
Russia’s Tass news agency reported that Skirta is an employee of Ukrrosmetal’s Poltava Turbomechanical Plant and was caught “red handed” by Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents while receiving a package of sensitive industrial materials and technical documentation on methods used at Russia’s Ural Turbomechanical Plant in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city. A separate Tass report said Skirta claimed to be an employee of Ukrtekhnosintez, a joint Belarusian-Ukrainian venture under Ukrrosmetal.
“The foreigner was establishing contacts with Russian enterprises’ employees with the intent to set up a long-term channel for obtaining documents in exchange for money,” an FSB statement read, according to the Moscow Times. Ukrrosmetal primarily exports to Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The FSB said he pleaded guilty to “illegal activities,” and a judge approved a pretrial detention of two months. The FSB began watching Skirta after receiving a tip last year. Russia's FSB appears to have been ramping up its efforts to fight espionage in Russia over the last year. At least nine people were arrested in Moscow alone for espionage or high treason from the start of 2014.
Russian media reports on Skirta did not mention if authorities had gathered any information on Russian co-conspirators who were allegedly passing information to him or if Skirta had already allegedly managed to pass off any information to buyers in Ukraine. Ukraine’s consulate-general in Yaketerinburg, Vladimir Bondarenko, said the consulate would maintain an involvement in the case and assist Skirta when appropriate.
Russia and Ukraine's formerly friendly relationship crumbled to a state that had many worried about an all-out war last year after pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east took up arms in an attempt to break from Ukraine. The fighting quieted following a ceasefire signed last month in Minsk, Belarus, but casualties continue to be reported by both sides. Around 6,000 people have been killed and another half a million internally displaced in the conflict.