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Russian national reported to face defection attempt charges for private text message

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A humorous exchange on a messaging app has become the justification for a criminal investigation on the alleged “defection” of 21-year-old Russian national Saveliy Frolov, Frolov's friend Nikita told The Insider. According to Nikita, he was interrogated by a group of FSB officers before Frolov was prosecuted. They explained to him that they had tracked him through cell phone billing data, and attempted to gain access to his phone with special equipment during the interrogation. The security forces accused Nikita of engaging in anti-war activities and training those willing to fight for Ukraine. Nikita left Russia following the interrogation.

In late October, Frolov was taken off a bus at the Verkhy Lars checkpoint while trying to leave for Georgia – before doing so, Russian border guards took Frolov’s smartphone and examined its contents. Later, he was arrested for 15 days for allegedly using “foul language” in a public place (“disorderly conduct”). On 31 October, Frolov called his parents and told them that he was in a pre-trial detention center in Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia. On December 12, reports revealed that Frolov was accused of treason. He was charged with Part 1 of Article 30 and Article 275 of Russia’s Criminal Code (“defection to the side of the enemy”). A court ordered Frolov to remain in custody on the same day.

The Insider's source, Nikita, claims that on November 26, he received a message from his and Frolov’s mutual friend saying that the security forces were looking for him. On November 29, the FSB came to his workplace:

“Saveliy and I are close friends, but despite this, after his detention and administrative charges, neither I nor my friends were fully aware of the situation. Even after the second administrative case, we had no idea how serious the situation was and how serious the suspicions against him were. On the 29th, the cops rang my doorbell. I thought it was some kind of routine inspection, so I quietly opened the door and saw five regular police officers and three FSB officers. They immediately took my cell phone, checked my passport, which was also taken away, handcuffed me, and took me to a nearby police station.

At the station, I first spent two hours in a separate room with an FSB officer, who read my correspondence with Saveliy out loud and asked me questions about it. They told me that they had found me with the help of cell phone billing data, and gave me a list of addresses where I often go.

They said that they knew everything about me – that I was allegedly training activists to be sent to Ukraine to fight for the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and was generally engaged in anti-war activities. Their key demand was for me to show my phone. After discussing everything and not getting the password to my phone, the officer left. His colleague then arrived with a huge bag of strange equipment, and the two of them went into a separate room with my phone for an hour. I suspect that despite the fact that the phone wasn’t unlocked in front of me, it could have been tapped and god knows what else [while they were in that room].

Then they kept asking me about Saveliy and my knowledge of his plans – they said he allegedly wanted to go and fight for Ukraine.

The two of them tried to get me to talk for another 3-4 hours, and actively tried to get access to my phone. The situation peaked when we were silent for 20 minutes and they were just waiting for me to break down and tell them everything, saying that until they got the information they needed, they wouldn't let me go. As a result, after summing up the situation by filling out a questionnaire and taking a verbal promise to cooperate with the investigation, not to leave the city and not to do anything “stupid,” they let me go.

At the moment I'm not in Russia, as the FSB threats were also directed at me. I can say that Saveliy clearly had no real plans to join the AFU, and all the FSB's assumptions are based on is one message from our chat that isn't based on reality. There were messages discussing the [“special military operation”], and [the FSB officers] were mainly caught up in his half-joking message about the intention to go [fight in the war], which I jokingly approved of.”

On July 14, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law equating defection during wartime to state treason. A person charged under this article could face up to 20 years in prison.

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