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Russian convicted of selling missile secrets to CIA

MOSCOW – A military court on Friday convicted a Russian officer of passing missile secrets to the CIA and sentenced him to 13 years in prison, officials said.

Lt. Col. Vladimir Nesterets was also stripped of his military rank after he pleaded guilty to passing classified information -- about tests involving Russia's latest strategic missiles, according to BBC News -- to the CIA for money, according to the Federal Security Service, the main agency that replaced the KGB.

The agency said Nesterets committed treason as he worked as a senior engineer at the Plesetsk launch pad in northwestern Russia near the Arctic Circle, a facility the military uses to launch satellites and test missiles.

The security service's terse statement did not say when Nesterets had been arrested or give any further details about his case.

Russia's missile program has seen a series of embarrassing setbacks in recent years, though not necessarily involving the Plesetsk base, the BBC said. Most prominently, the submarine-launched Bulava ballistic missile was hit by a series of test failures before being finally approved in December.

Growing U.S.-Russian tension
The spy conviction also comes amid growing tension in U.S.-Russian relations, despite President Barack Obama's efforts to "reset" them, following strains that had developed during the previous U.S. administration.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have worsened over a U.S.-led missile defense system being developed by NATO around Europe, and Russia teaming with China to block a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also has been increasingly eager to challenge the U.S. as he campaigns to reclaim his nation's presidency in next month's election.

He has accused Washington of fueling the massive protests that have recently taken place against his rule in order to weaken the nation.

The conviction also came just days after President Dmitry Medvedev told a Federal Security Service meeting that foreign governments were stepping up their spying activities in the country, according to a report by the AFP news agency.

Medvedev praised the Federal Security Service for exposing 199 foreign spies and agents last year, AFP reported. He added that some of those detained were Russians working for Western countries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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