On the eve of a visit by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to China, the Federal Security Service has pressed spying charges against a Chinese national whom it accuses of trying to purchase sensitive information about the S-300 air defense system.
The suspect, Tun Shenyun, was detained almost a year ago, on Oct. 28, but the incident was only reported Wednesday, a day after the charges were filed in the Moscow City Court.
While "working undercover for [China's] State Security Ministry as a translator for official delegations," the suspect "engaged in attempts to obtain … documents on the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system from Russian citizens in exchange for money," the FSB said in a
Tun Shenyun is charged with "an attempt to conduct spy activities." If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
While Russia has sold a few S-300 systems to China, the former Cold War ally is looking for ways to obtain the technology behind the weapon, said Igor Korotchenko, director of the Center for Analysis of the Global Weapons Trade.
He said China was unlikely to retaliate over the spy case.
"The man who was arrested was not a diplomat," he said. "And it will be hard for them to find a Russian who is spying on the Chinese military because they steal our secrets, not the other way around."
The S-300, an anti-aircraft system capable of intercepting ballistic missiles, is one of the Russia's leading military exports.
Putin is scheduled to visit Beijing next week on a two-day trip to strengthen ties with the Chinese leadership.