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Russia jails man over 'treasonous' smuggling of missile parts to US

By Andrew Osborn

(Reuters) - A Russian man has been convicted of treason and jailed for 12 1/2 years for sending missile components to the United States, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Friday, as a top official boasted that hundreds of foreign spies had been caught.

News of the verdict - announced in an FSB statement via Russian news agencies - came a day after Moscow said it was expelling two senior U.S. diplomats whom it accused of working with a Russian national to collect sensitive information, a move Washington said was "wholly without merit".

Relations between Moscow and Washington - Kyiv's main financial and military backer - have plunged to their lowest level since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis because of the war in Ukraine which has become a grinding standoff where military hardware secrets could make a difference on the battlefield.

The FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said a court in the Tver region had convicted Moscow-born Sergei Kabanov, 32, to 12 1/2 years in a maximum security prison colony for smuggling components used in Russian air defence missile systems and in radar-based weapons systems.

It said he had been acting at the behest of U.S. intelligence services and had smuggled components via Latvia to a U.S. firm based in Alabama which it named and said was under the control of the U.S. Department of Defense.

It was not immediately clear how Kabanov had pleaded. There was no immediate comment from the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

FSB footage released via the state TASS news agency showed the moment of Kabanov's arrest.

It showed him and another man moving a small wooden crate from one vehicle to another on a rural track before FSB agents - dressed in hooded camouflage outfits - ambushed them and pinned Kabanov to the ground with his hands behind his back.

TASS also released footage of the moment Kabanov was sentenced in court and showed what is said were shipping documents and an invoice for $49,000 - apparently from a Turkish company - for two items which the FSB had used as evidence in the case against Kabanov.

The number of treason cases opened by the authorities in Russia has increased sharply since the start of the Ukraine war with President Vladimir Putin urging his intelligence agencies to up their game when it comes to catching foreign spies and agents.

Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia's Security Council, boasted in an article published on Friday that Moscow had caught hundreds of foreign operatives.

"In recent years, hundreds of employees of foreign intelligence services, as well as other persons involved in organising intelligence and subversive activities against our country and our strategic partners, have been identified and neutralised," wrote Patrushev, a close Putin ally.

(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Heavens)