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Putin’s Paranoia Prompts Record Rate of Treason Arrests

By Jake Beardslee · August 8, 2023

In brief…

  • Treason arrests have surged under Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2023.
  • There have been 82 arrests so far this year, compared to 101 total arrests between 1997 and 2017.
  • The spike is seen as evidence of Putin's deepening paranoia during his war with Ukraine and his increasing isolation both in Russia and internationally.
  • Those jailed include Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza and scientist Valery Golubkin.
Treason arrests have risen sharply under an increasingly isolated Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s growing fears over perceived enemies and traitors have led to a dramatic increase in arrests for treason in Russia in 2023.

The number of treason arrests has skyrocketed to 82 so far this year, compared to a total of just 101 total arrests between 1997 and 2017, reports independent Russian outlet Kholod. The actual number is likely “many times higher,” says Kholod, as numerous cases are kept secret by Russia’s Federal Security Service.

According the Kholod report, “If previously the group of risk included employees of defense enterprises, military personnel and scientists who had access to state secrets, now literally everyone can be accused of treason. Even benign online activities like ‘likes’ on Instagram and subscriptions on Telegram [messenger service] can lead to a criminal case.”

Attorney Yevgeny Smirnov from human rights group Department One told Daily Mail, “Do not forget that the very content of the state secret is a state secret. That is, not a single person in Russia knows what exactly is a state secret and what is not.”

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Kremlin critic who holds both Russian and British citizenship, was imprisoned for 25 years on charges of treason. Dissident Kara-Murza was jailed for speaking out against Putin’s authoritarian government and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Other arrests included two scientists: Valery Golubkin, who received 12 years for alleged treason, and Alexander Shiplyuk, seized in Novosibirsk while heading to a hyper-sonics institute.

The spike in treason cases reflects Putin’s escalating paranoia and consequent repression amid his war in Ukraine. Even minor dissent is now branded as treason.