WASHINGTON, June 24 (By Carl Schreck for RIA Novosti) – Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s reported sojourn in Moscow this week is the latest in a series of cases in recent years to rattle US-Russia ties over cooperation in politically tinged criminal investigations.
“Both sides have tended to regard as a purely criminal investigation [what] the other side thinks of as political,” Mark Galeotti, a transnational crime and Russia expert at New York University, told RIA Novosti on Monday.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that the United States believes Snowden, who is wanted by the United States for disclosing a top-secret surveillance program, is still in Moscow after reportedly flying to the Russian capital from Hong Kong on Sunday.
Carney and State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell both cited bilateral cooperation in expressing hope for Moscow’s help in the Snowden case, saying the United States had returned several “high-level criminals back to Russia at the request of the Russian government.”
But in the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries, any Russian help in sending Snowden back to the United States would have to be a political decision, said Douglas McNabb, a Washington-based extradition lawyer.
“Only a high-level politician would approve a rendition,” McNabb told RIA Novosti.
Russia has been highly critical of US authorities’ extradition of Russians from third countries to face criminal charges in the United States, most notably in the cases of convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout and convicted Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko – both of whom Moscow has described as targets of politically motivated US prosecutions.
Russia has accused the United States of kidnapping Yaroshenko after notification of his arrest was mistakenly sent to a third country and he was transferred from Liberia to New York to face charges without Moscow’s knowledge. He was sentenced to 20 years in a US prison on drug trafficking charges in 2011.
Bout, detained in a joint operation by US and Thai authorities in Bangkok in 2008, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the United States in April 2012. Moscow has condemned the United States’ refusal to extradite him to Russia.
Both Bout and Yaroshenko figured prominently in a 2011 report issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry criticizing the United States’ human rights record.
While Snowden is not a Russian citizen, Moscow might enjoy the opportunity to “tweak the Americans’ noses” by impeding US efforts to detain the former US National Security Agency contractor, Galeotti said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that that it would be “deeply troubling” for US relations with China or Russia if either country “willfully” ignored Washington’s requests for help in returning Snowden to the United States.
“In the last two years, we have transferred seven prisoners to Russia that they wanted,” Kerry said in New Delhi on Monday. “So I think reciprocity and the enforcement of the law is pretty important.”
Neither the White House nor the State Department provided more specific information about the cases of prisoners returned to Russia that Kerry and other officials cited Monday.
But earlier this year, the United States deported Russian national and suspected narcotics trafficker Stanislav Satarinov back to Russia in order to face criminal charges in his home country, Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement in March.
Satarinov, who was extradited to the United States from Germany in April 2011, was one of several Russians in addition to Bout and Yaroshenko cited in the Russian Foreign Ministry report critiquing Washington’s human rights record.
Russian prosecutors, however, said his transfer to Russia was enabled by the “harmonious” work of law enforcement officials in Russia and abroad, including “the relevant US authorities.”