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3 Extradition Cases That Help Explain U.S.-Russia Relations

A Russian police officer watches a protester during a rally in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in September 2004. Some 500 protesters demanded the extradition of Ilyas Akhmadov from the United States.
Alexander Nemenov
AFP/Getty Images
A Russian police officer watches a protester during a rally in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in September 2004. Some 500 protesters demanded the extradition of Ilyas Akhmadov from the United States.

Earlier today, diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia suffered a substantial blow, when President Obama pulled out a of planned bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September.

As Mark reported, it is "the most dramatic effect so far on U.S.-Russian relations in the wake of Russia's decision to grant 'NSA leaker' Edward Snowden temporary asylum."

But, if you look at history, the U.S. and Russia have been here before. It goes back to 1893, when the U.S. Senate approved a controversial treaty in which both countries promised to turn over "persons guilty of attempts on the life of a ruler." That extradition treaty is now long forgotten and the U.S. and Russia have no formal agreement. When the U.S. issued an extradition request for Snowden, Russia made that clear and also complained that the U.S. hasn't been friendly when Moscow has made requests. It's complicated, and the U.S. processes hundreds — and in the early 2000s, thousands — of refugee applications from Russians a year. It grants some, rejects others.

We found three different high-profile cases in which Russia demanded an extradition that we think help explain the complexity of U.S.-Russia relations:

Ilyas Akhmadov, Chechen Rebel Leader:

In 2002, Akhmadov applied for asylum in the United States. As a 2005 Washington Post Magazine profile of him notes, the Chechen rebel leader had run out of places to hide, so he sought refuge in the U.S., where he had cultivated a network of allies, including high-ranking American officials.

The Russians deemed him a terrorist "charged with organizing terrorist training camps and leading 2,000 armed insurgents ... in the 1999 Dagestani incursion."

The Post continues:

"In response to Akhmadov's asylum application, Russia demanded his immediate extradition in 2003. Suddenly an immigration case that likely would have been resolved with one or two hearings in Boston was being kicked up to Washington, where it would languish for two years. Fortunately for Akhmadov, another benefactor, Max Kampelman, a former chief arms negotiator for Ronald Reagan and a counselor to the State Department, arranged for the white-shoe legal firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson to represent him free of charge. Douglas Baruch, a partner, landed the case. 'The evidence against [Akhmadov] was obviously fabricated, in a very slipshod and amateurish manner,' says Baruch. Leonard Shapiro, the immigration judge handling Akhmadov's hearing, apparently felt the same way, dismissing the charges for lack of evidence. (In an almost identical case in Britain, where Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakayev was accused by Russian authorities of 13 counts of murder and hostage-taking, a judge also dismissed the allegations. 'I am satisfied,' ruled British Judge Timothy Workman, 'that it is more likely than not that the motivation of the government of the Russian Federation was and is to exclude Mr. Zakayev from continuing to take part in the peace process and to discredit him as a moderate.') 'My concern,' Baruch recalls, 'was that the delay in the final decision was for political reasons, for the Bush administration not to offend the Russians.' "

The Russians brought up Akhmadov's case in July.

Karl Linnas, Alleged Nazi War Criminal:

According to the book Russia and America: From Rivalry to Reconciliation, the Soviet Union asked the United States three times to extradite Karl Linnas.

Linnas had been convicted in absentia of running a Nazi death camp. In 1982, the United States revoked his citizenship, claiming he had lied to enter the country. The issue with deporting him to Russia, however, was that some argued it would deny him of due process and open him up to "cruel and unusual" punishment.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected an appeal, siding with a lower court that found the evidence against him was "overwhelming and largely uncontroverted."

Russia and America explains Linnas was at the time only the second war criminal to be returned to Russia and the first to be sent back against his will. The extradition buoyed relations between the countries. The book quotes an account of the case by the official Russian news agency: "The decision of the U.S. authorities on the deportation of Karl Linnas demonstrates that they can be united in the just cause of bringing the war criminals to justice."

Kirill Alekseev, Russian Defector:

Back in 1947, Kirill Alekseev (as the media spelled Alexeyev's name back then) left his post as the Soviet trade representative in Mexico and fled to the United States.

According to an AP report from Jan. 5, 1974, Alekseev blasted Russia, saying it was a "hell of dictatorship." Russia issued an extradition request for Alekseev saying he was wanted for "embezzlement, treachery, treason, provocation, slander and failing to go home when he was supposed to."

In a New York Times report from Jan. 5, Alexeiev's (as the Times spells his name) lawyer denied the charges, saying they were "fantastic concoctions of the Soviet officials."

By Jan. 22, 1947, the United States came to a decision. According to a New York Times article from the time, the U.S. State Department rejected Russia's request.

"It is a well-established principle of international law that no right to extradition exists apart from treaty. No extradition treaty exists between the United States and the Soviet Union," the State Department said in a statement.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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