Another China Link Russian Navy Design Bureau Head Sentenced to Prison

The head of a naval ship design bureau, well known in the former Soviet Union and Russia, has been sentenced to a heavy prison term. The case was suspected to be related to the hovercraft that China purchased from Ukraine. More and more Russian military experts are being sentenced on charges of providing information to China, but this case is considered rare because it involves such a high-level expert who knows all about naval vessels.

Unsuccessful appeal, high ranking Russian expert involved, unusual case

Russian Navy naval expert Prozorov has recently lost his appeal against his conviction for treason. The Supreme Court ruled to uphold Prozorov’s case, the Russian Supreme Court press service said in an April 29 release.

The St. Petersburg City Court sentenced Prozorov last February to 14 years in prison and a 200,000-ruble fine, while confiscating more than $50,000 in cash and luxury cars found in his home. Like many cases involving Russian scientists sentenced in China, Prozorov’s case is highly secretive.

But when the court handed down the sentence, the judge made public the beginning and end sections of the verdict, which specifically featured descriptions of Chinese intelligence officers, and many Russian media outlets believe that Prozorov is also in trouble for allegedly providing intelligence to China.

Prozorov was arrested in St. Petersburg in 2018 and later escorted to Moscow. A growing number of Russian scientists, especially experts in the military and aerospace fields, are currently being sentenced for allegedly providing intelligence to China. But compared to them, Prozorov is at a very high level. He was the chief designer and director of the famous “Black Sea Man” naval design bureau of the former Soviet Union and Russian Navy.

Close ties with China, possibly related to air-cushion landing ships

“The Black Sea Man ship design bureau is located in the naval port city of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. Local media in St. Petersburg and Sevastopol, which have been following the case, have reported that Prozorov’s case may be linked to the European Bison hovercushion landing ship that China procured from Ukraine. In the years prior to his arrest, Prozorov had traveled to China on very frequent business trips.

In 2009, China signed a contract with Ukraine for the purchase of four European Bison air-cushion landing ships, amounting to more than $300 million. Two of them were built in Ukraine, and the other two in China with the technical guidance and help of Ukraine. The first one was delivered to China in April 2013. The second ship was delivered to China in 2014, just before Russia completed its annexation of Crimea.

Prozorov’s “Black Sea Man” naval design bureau at the time developed a marine platform for transporting the European Bison air cushion landing ships to China.

However, some analysts believe that in addition to the European Bison hovercushion landing ship, the “Black Sea People” ship design bureau has been in close contact with China, Vietnam, India and other countries equipped with many Soviet and Russian-made naval equipment for a long time because of its expertise in upgrading, maintenance and repair of Soviet naval ships and other equipment. China purchased a large number of Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines and modern-class destroyers from Russia many years ago.

The famous man from the port has long worked for the design bureau and knows the naval ships well

The “Black Sea People” naval design bureau, formed in 1947 after the end of World War II, is considered an early and prominent naval design bureau in the former Soviet Union. In its early years, the Bureau was responsible for the repair and maintenance of large ships of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and their refitting and upgrading. Later, it began to design and develop special technology ships for the Soviet Navy, including electronic reconnaissance ships.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and until Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Russian and Ukrainian navies shared the port of Sevastopol. “The Black Sea People Naval Design Bureau was also owned by Ukraine, and the chief designer Prozorov had Ukrainian citizenship at the time. “During that period, the Black Sea People’s Design Bureau designed and upgraded the only submarine of the Ukrainian Navy, the Zabaroge, and later designed and developed reconnaissance ships for the Ukrainian Navy.

After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea People naval design bureau came under Russian control, and Prozorov was granted Russian citizenship in 2015. His ship design bureau was later merged with the Sevastopol Naval Shipyard, part of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, in 2018. “The famous office building where the Black Sea People design bureau was located at the time was also taken over by the city. The building, located at 1 Sea Street in Sevastopol, has always been a major local landmark. Many years ago, a Ukrainian plutocrat attempted to acquire the building to open a hotel, an incident that caused much controversy in the area.

For 10 years, until 2002, Prozorov was a member of the Sevastopol City Council. Prozorov joined the Black Sea People naval design bureau in 1986 and has been chief designer and director since 1996. Local media said that Prozorov not only had a lot of naval secrets, but also had a good knowledge of Soviet and Russian-made naval equipment.

Convictions for treason on the rise, denial of guilt

Russian courts are now hearing more and more cases of treason, and a large part of them are related to China. Commentator Sartatov said the definition of treason is now diluted and the authorities have the flexibility to convict people on that basis.

Authorities do not have to have direct evidence of on-site intelligence transfers or espionage to convict someone who is deemed to have caused damage to national interests, Saltautov said.

“Back in late 2012, the definition of treason provisions in Russian law was expanded, and treason can now be defined in a broader context,” Saltatov said.

Prozorov, 73, maintains his innocence and denies the crime. Prozorov’s defense attorney said he may not walk out of prison alive and that the court’s sentence amounts to a life sentence.