Monday, January 14, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Learned from Minsk about Utility of ‘Extraditions Outside the Law,’ ‘Novaya Gazeta’ Journalist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 14 – The case of Leonid Razvozzhayev, who was seized by the Russian security services in Ukraine and illegally returned to the Russian Federation, has called attention to the ways in which the security services of various CIS countries have used the relatively open borders among them to arrange such “extraditions” without legal formalities.

            In today’s “Novaya gazeta,” Irina Khalip, who covers Belarus for that independent Moscow paper, says that “the Russians in this case are hardly innovators; they have simply used the know-how of their Belarusian colleagues” who often avoid the technicalities of extradition to bring back from abroad those they want to arrest (

            The Belarusians, who are part of a union state with the Russian Federation, “as a rule” send requests for extradition, the journalist says, “but if they don’t want to wait, then they act independently.” And so far, she continues, Russia has not once gotten angry or demanded an end to such arbitrary actions on its territory.”

            “On the contrary,” the “Novaya gazeta” writer continue, the Russian security services have adopted the Belarusian method for themselves and sometimes they have even helped the Belarusian special services to carry out such illegal actions without any investigations or courts being involved.”

            She provides data on several Belarusian cases of this kind. The first involves Igor Olinevich, who was kidnapped in Moscow by Belarusian security police on November 28, 2010, for his involvement in the so-called “anarchist case” in Minsk. Because he had fled to Russia, a Belarusian court gave him a sentence more than twice as long as his colleagues.

            Olinevich described in his diary – which he gave his mother from his prison cell in Belarus – how the Belarusian security officers used the lack of formalities at the Belarusian-Russian border to “extradite” him to Belarus and with no further formalities to the confines of a Belarusian jail.

            Another such case took place several years ago. It involved Nikolay Petrovsky who was working at that time as the dean of the law faculty of Brest University.  He fled Belarus after learning he would be arrested for publically criticizing Alyaksandr Lukashenka for dressing up himself and his son in marshal’s uniforms. 

            He was arrested in Russia but subsequently freed thanks to the efforts of human rights activists like Svetlana Gannushkina, Lyudmila Alekseyeva and Vladimir Lukin. Once out of a Russian jail, the Belarusian “siloviki decided that they would act illegally” and return him to Belarus for a greater punishment.

            When Minsk understood that Moscow wouldn’t give him up “officially,” Petrovsky told “Novaya,” the Belarusian security services “tried to illegally carry [him] out of Russia as they had Igor Olinevich.” But he escaped their clumsy attempt initially because his neighbor in Moscow was a Belarusian who recognized the Minsk police.

            Petrovsky, a lawyer, hid out while he appealed through the Russian courts and directly to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in every case without success. “I am not Gerard Depardieu” and thus there was no reason for them to give him Russian citizenship or even protect. Consequently, the former dean sought and received political asylum elsewhere.

            Between Russia and Belarus, “the border is only on maps; there is no passport control and no border posts.”  And that makes it easy for the security services to flout the law of their own country and the other. Sometimes that results in truly absurd situations that would be laughable were they not so indicative of some unfortunate realities.

            One of those occurred in August 2012, Khalip writes. It involved Sumbat Abasov, a thief from Georgia who had completed a three-year prison sentence in Russia for drug trafficking. Moscow wanted him gone but it turned out that Abasov was “a man without citizenship” and that as a result there was nowhere to send him.

            But then the Russian police “remembered that there is the remarkable country of Belarus to which an individual can be carried secretly and without any documents.  That is what the Russian siloviki did. They took him into Belarus and then abandoned him in a field, returning to Moscow to report that they had fulfilled their orders.

            Things did not end there, however.  Several alert Belarusian “siloviki” immediately detained him and carried him back across the unguarded border to Russia: “Here take this guy, we don’t need such a gift.”  And because such things are possible, Khalip says, they have become “the norm.”

            No one should make the mistake of comparing this situation with the Shengen zone in Europe, the “Novaya” journalist says. “There the legal mechanisms operate like clockwork, and German siloviki do not go into France seeking [those they want to arrest] and then carry them back in the trunks of their cars.”

            “In totalitarian neighbor states,” she writes, “where political searches and hunts for those who think differently remain a reality, the absence of borders guarantees that there will be illegal special operations on the territories” of these neighbors.

             Although Khalip does not discuss them, there have been reports over the past several years that Uzbek special services have used the same method, and all the coverage of such actions as a result of the Razvozzhayev case is likely to make the leaders of many countries less eager to enter into any closer union with Russia let alone into a union state headed by Moscow.

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