The International Non-Governmental Organization Free Russia Foundation published a report on the violation of law by the Kremlin and its use of Western institutions to destabilize the West. We present to your attention an article from this report. You can read the full report on the website of the organization.
Russia’s Abuse of International Law Enforcement Agencies
Interpol’s internal charter forbids their 194 member nations to use the international law enforcement organization in any actions that are of a “political, military, religious or racial character.” Russia undoubtedly violates all four of these restrictions. By using the system to mete out punishment against its opponents, Russia’s general prosecutor’s office has served Red Notices and diffusions on countless individuals, causing them legal, travel, and immigration headaches. In some cases, this works as a substitute for extradition treaties where none existed. Russia also uses Interpol’s system to deport mostly Muslim antagonists by declaring them terrorists. Finally, evidence is now emerging that Russian officials may have hacked their way inside international financial institutions and gained access to private financial information of Russia’s opponents.
By Dr. Denis Sokolov, Ilya Zaslavskiy, and Natalia Arno
The International Criminal Police Organization, more widely known as Interpol, has a somewhat misleading name, implying that Interpol is a policing operation; it would be better deﬁned as an international “message board” that lists the names of people accused of crimes in one of its 194 member countries. Interpol makes no effort to determine the validity of the criminal complaints, which makes it far too easy for authoritarian regimes to abuse the process to punish political opponents. Over the past several years, Russia has filled Interpol’s database with the names of political opponents and others who have earned the wrath of Kremlin-friendly business leaders.
Despite Interpol’s constitution that forbids member countries from using the system for “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character,” Russia has become one of the top abusers of Interpol “Red Notices,” which are (incorrectly) viewed in some countries as an international arrest warrant or a reason to deport. Numerous Red Notices ﬁled by Russia have been aimed at political opponents such as Vladimir Gusinsky, the former owner of Russia’s leading independent media group; Ilya Ponomarev, a former Duma member who cast the lone vote in opposition to the annexation of Crimea; Russian environmental activist Petr Silaev; Leonid Nevzlin, vice president of Yukos Oil, who was indicted as part of the Kremlin’s campaign against the company; Eerik-Niiles Kross, an Estonian politician who has long been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side; Boris Berezovsky, once Russia’s most influential “oligarch,” who helped bring Vladimir Putin to power and later became his sworn opponent; Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen prime minister in exile; and Nikita Kulachenkov, an activist at Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. Russia has also hounded businessman and Kremlin critic Bill Browder by requesting at least ﬁve Red Notices, but none of them, thanks to legal and international pressure, have been published. The Russians did transmit a diffusion on Mr. Browder through Interpol. (A diffusion is similar to a Red Notice but sent directly by a member country of Interpol to a country of their choice.)
In more high-profile cases, those who were put into Interpol’s data base have been able to hire attorneys and have their names removed, at a cost and sometimes after being detained or having travel restricted. The impact of Russia’s use of Red Notices is being felt the hardest on those seeking asylum from Russia around the world. In Europe, Russia has placed many Russian-born Muslim dissidents on terror watch lists, creating dozens of deportations back to Russia and Chechnya (see case studies below). In the U.S., recent changes in Department of Homeland Security policy have meant hundreds of detentions and deportations for Russians seeking refugee status in the U.S. The new policy, adopted in 2015, limits asylum requests from anyone with an allegation of a criminal background, which is assumed by immigration judges to be the case if a name appears in Interpol’s database.
Pavel Ivlev, a former lawyer for Yukos Oil who ﬂed Russia for the U.S. and has himself had to deal with Red Notices for the past nine years, now assists Russians facing deportation or arrest for being on Interpol’s Red Notice list. Ivlev explains that many of his clients have been arrested in their homes or detained when going to an immigration status hearing. Many of his clients were unaware they were on Interpol’s list at the time of their detention. He says that Russia is completely aware of how to game the system and have those it treats as criminals sent back to Russia. “Russia completely understands how it works in the U.S. and abuses Red Notices and diffusions to return many people back to Russia who left because of criminal persecution for political or business-related reasons,” Ivlev said. “The U.S. and Russia do not have an extradition treaty, and this is, essentially, a way to get around that and have people it believes are criminals returned back to Russia.”
Ivlev said that once his clients are detained, they are often placed in local jails, often without bail, while they wait for up to 90 days to see an immigration judge. Even with the best lawyers, Ivlev said the end result is often deportation back to Russia. “They don’t get due process. Everything is wrong with this system now,” Ivlev says of internal changes in DHS policy. “Russia knows ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is traditionally very cooperative of Red Notice requests. They know how it works. They know ICE is supposed to inform the requesting country, Russia, and notify them when someone has been detained. There are criminal charges pending by a Russian court and they’re saying, ‘we want that person to be delivered to us.’”
Dr. Ted Bromund, a Senior Research Fellow at the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation, has written extensively on Interpol abuses and reform. He agrees that immigration policy in the U.S. can be abused by autocratic regimes: “ICE … cannot arrest on the basis of the Red Notice, but it can and does arrest for the immigration violation that the Red Notice creates, which comes very close to allowing Vladimir Putin to pick his targets on ICE’s behalf.”
Not all who have Red Notices ﬁled against them face jail or deportation. But that doesn’t mean life for them is any easier. Bromund agreed with the U.S. Helsinki Committee’s Kyle Parker that “a Red Notice can be even more effective than the judicial system — with none of the safeguards … It doesn’t prosecute you; it persecutes you.” In an email exchange for this report, Dr. Bromund explained that “a Russian Red Notice may get you arrested and has a chance of getting you extradited — but the real punishment is the number of ways it complicates your life, and the difficulties you will face in getting things back to normal.”
“Basically, presuming you are not arrested and/or extradited as a result of a Red Notice, it has four effects,” Dr. Bromund explained. “1. A Red Notice makes it much, much harder to travel; 2. If you are not a citizen, and if you have any valid travel documents (a visa, for example), it is likely to lead to the cancellation of those documents, which can in turn land you in jail on an immigration violation charge; 3. If the abusive Red Notice is public, it can and often does lead to the closure of your bank accounts, which makes fighting back even harder, because you no longer have a credit card or a check to pay your lawyers; 4. It brands you as a criminal (particularly because most people incorrectly believe that a Red Notice is an ‘international arrest warrant’ or that it is based on evidence or some Interpol investigative process, none of which is true), and this can make it hard to get or keep a job or to do anything where having a ‘criminal background’ creates problems. Generally speaking, of course, the more famous and the richer you are, the less these effects are likely to bother you and the more able you are to hire good lawyers to fight back — but even for the very rich and famous, the effects can be serious.”
In Europe, the effect of being subjected to a Red Notice depends on the country’s legal system and how it views their obligations as a member of Interpol, according to Dr. Bromund. “Broadly speaking, the best rule of thumb is that common law nations (e.g. the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) do not treat a Red Notice as an actionable basis for making an arrest, whereas in many civil law nations (France and most of the rest of Europe) a Red Notice can serve as a sufficient basis for making an arrest,” Dr. Bromund said.
According to Dr. Bromund, Russia’s relationship with some countries can mean a more perilous application of the Red Notice system. “If I was named in a Russia Red Notice, for example, I would not be too worried about visiting Norway — but I would be very worried about visiting Bulgaria or Serbia.”
In recent years, Russia has been using European law enforcement agencies and public sentiment against dissident migrants from Russia. This may include creating difficulties with obtaining documents in the EU, Turkey, and Ukraine, and, in some cases, initiation of deportation or extradition of their opponents. This has impacted two migrant groups disproportionally: (1) Muslims who have ﬂed religious persecution and who continue to remain in the public spotlight and (2) Chechens who openly criticize the Kremlin-picked head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, or whom the Chechen leader believes present a danger to him. Chechens are frequently accused of religious extremism, having connections with terrorist organizations, or participating in the armed conflict in Syria on the side of ISIS, and placed on international terror lists managed by Interpol.
Those accusations place European migration services, law enforcement agencies, and even human rights organizations in a difficult position. On the one hand, verifying the accuracy of those accusations sometimes proves impossible, but on the other, ignoring the information received from Russian intelligence or police agencies means potentially dropping the ball on threats of terrorism.
The practices of Turkish, Ukrainian, Egyptian, and other North African and Middle Eastern security and migration services are often perceived as unpredictable or corrupt, presenting risks to immigrants. The recent mass detentions and deportations of Russian Muslims from Egypt are a vivid example.
With European law enforcement agencies, Russia has been using both official and unofficial means to achieve their political goals.
The first method is to place the targeted persons on Interpol’s Red Notice list or to name them in diffusions. To do this, four types of charges are created, according to information provided by Vayfond lawyers, an independent human rights organization that represents Chechens in cases such as Interpol abuse. They are:
Case study: Tumso Abdurakhmanov
The situation around the possible extradition from Poland to Russia of Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a Chechen blogger and creator of the YouTube channel “Abu-Saddam Shishani” which has more than 100,000 subscribers, is a vivid example of how the Russian authorities in general, and the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, in particular, can effectively use international law enforcement agencies, migration law, and bureaucratic procedures to victimize their opponents. Tumso Abdurakhmanov was forced to leave the Chechen capital city of Grozny, having previously sent abroad his family members (mother, brother, wife, and children), after a conflict with Islam Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Presidential Administration, and Ramzan Kadyrov’s relative and appointee. In the fall of 2015, Abdurakhmanov entered Georgia, but the Georgian authorities refused to grant him asylum on the basis of information received from Russian law enforcement agencies – in November 2015 a Chechen investigator ﬁled a criminal case naming Tumso Abdurakhmanov and alleging violations of Russian Criminal Code Art. 208, Part 2 [“Involvement in an armed group not provided for by federal law, as well as involvement on the territory of a foreign state in an armed group not provided for by the law of that state, bearing objectives contrary to the interests of the Russian Federation”]. On top of that, in 2016-2017 Tumso Abdurakhmanov was added to Interpol’s international wanted list. However, on August 17, 2017, in response to a request, the Interpol Commission for the Control of Files replied that Tumso Abdurakhmanov’s information was removed from the system on May 3, 2017, since an investigation had shown that there were insufficient grounds for conducting a manhunt using the Interpol system. Abdurakhmanov booked a ticket to Russia via Warsaw and, once in Warsaw, he requested political asylum. His Russian passport has expired and, on the basis of information received from Russian and Georgian law enforcement agencies, some of which is classified, the Polish authorities have denied Abdurakhmanov’s asylum application and are going to extradite him to Russia. From the experience of Muslims already extradited from the EU, Ukraine, and Turkey, Abdurakhmanov can face torture and a lengthy prison sentence in his homeland.
1. Allegations of involvement in the armed conflict in Syria (the immigrant is often accused of involvement in the conflict both on the side of IS and on the side of al-Qaeda / the Al-Nusra Front, even though such allegations are mutually exclusive). Such accusations are usually based on the testimony of witnesses who are either unavailable or whose identity is classified. In order to be accused of association with ISIS, after 2012 it is enough for a Russian Muslim to travel from his/her native country to Turkey and spend as little as one day there. It is on these grounds that accusations of involvement in a terrorist organization were brought against the Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov, Russian Muslim Pavel Okruzhko, the Voice of Islam website editor Dmitri (Khamza) Chernomorchenko (all three case are examined below), and hundreds more Russian Muslims. In some cases, the investigators asked for a payoff to withdraw the charges (or to not ﬁle a criminal case). The sum of this “compensation,” according to our informants, ranged from $5,000-$50,000.
2. Allegations of providing support for terrorist activities. Relatives, friends, and even business partners of those who have been accused of terrorism or membership in illegal armed groups are exposed to such allegations. (After the statute of limitations on the charges of “justifying terrorism” in this area has been reviewed, the atrisk group has been expanded to now include all journalists, experts, and bloggers who have written about the Syrian conflict or the North Caucasian underground).
3. Registration of persons convicted of crimes related to terrorism and recently released from prison for the purpose of so-called “effective monitoring to prevent terrorist activities.” (That is, the “preventive monitoring” to which tens of thousands of people from the North Caucasus, who were not necessarily ever imprisoned, were subjected to from 2010 to 2016 on the recommendation of local beat police officers).
4. In addition to the information from the Vayfond lawyers, it is worth adding that the allegations of financing terrorism are also frequently made. Those charges can be brought against businessmen or against ordinary citizens who did something as basic as paying a phone bill for a relative or friend who was living abroad (in Turkey), or made a small donation to build wells or mosques in Africa to the Living Heart Foundation operated by Abu Umar Sasitlinsky, a Muslim preacher and philanthropist from Dagestan. The Living Heart Foundation itself is also accused of financing terrorism, on no grounds and without evidence.
Second, it is not only adding a person to the international wanted list (which requires a foundation of evidence and compliance with a number of formalities) that can be effective. Sometimes an information letter from Russian special services is enough to prevent a refugee from being granted asylum or rights to protection. Such a letter states that according to information available to the special service – for example, the FSB – “this person is dangerous because he is a member of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.”
A third method consists of completely unofficial levers of influence. In the past few years, the influence of Ramzan Kadyrov’s representatives has been growing in the Chechen diasporas of Poland, Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, and other European countries. This is largely due to the inability (and sometimes unwillingness) of European states to protect Chechen immigrants from Kadyrov, the practice of taking their relatives in Chechnya hostage, and the growth of anti-Islamic and anti-Chechen sentiments in Europe in connection with the events in Syria.
According to our informants, representatives of Ramzan Kadyrov collaborate with intelligence services in EU countries, readily providing them with information about the trustworthiness of Chechens who are living or seeking asylum in those countries. There are several first-hand accounts that before such “consultations,” the Chechen EU collaborators conduct talks with those about whom information is being collected and force them to cooperate by threatening to give the intelligence services negative feedback about them.
Case Study: Azamat Bayduev
Actually, Poland already has had a similar experience: the extradition of a Chechen, Azamat Bayduev, in September 2018. “Current Time has received a response from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Poland. It states that they have received a statement from an ‘authorized agency’ about returning a Russian citizen to his country of origin. It does not specify which agency is being referred to. The Polish Interior Ministry has added that the final decision to extradite the Russian was made on the basis of this document, and also because Bayduev allegedly posed a threat to the public security of Poland [...] This decision, according to the Ministry, was issued on the basis of Article 329 of the Law Regarding Foreigners. That provision was introduced by the anti-terrorism act of 2016.” According to the information provided by the MVD of Chechnya, Bayduev had confessed that he had previously traveled to Syria to take part in combat operations. Criminal charges were ﬁled against Bayduev in Chechnya under Art. 208, Part 2, of the Criminal Code of Russia. From a post published by Human Rights Analysis Center attorney Akhmed Gisayev it became known that “Bayduev who, according to the lawyer, was deported from Poland to Russia on August 31, was abducted around midnight on September 1 from the house of his uncle Azamat in the village of Shalazhi, Urus-Martansky District, Chechnya. According to Gisayev, about a hundred operatives of the Chechen divisions of the FSB and the MVD, with their weapons drawn, first blocked off the area around the house, and then broke into the house.” In 2017–2018, Ukraine, which is de facto at war with Russia, has delivered several Muslim immigrants to the Russian authorities. For example, “[the] brothers Arif Jabarov and Albert Bogatyrev. Albert was detained at the Zaporizhia airport (in Ukraine), from where he was about to depart to Istanbul. In 2017, he ﬂew into Ukraine, got married there, and was planning to ﬂy to Istanbul in order to complete some business there, but it turned out that he was wanted by Interpol on the basis of a request made by the Russian special services.”
As a result, Chechen immigrants in the EU are finding themselves in a situation similar to that from which they have ﬂed. They are pressured by threats of violence (there are several incidents of beatings, kidnappings, and murders), by blackmail with threats of reprisals against their relatives, by fabricated indictments, and by abuse of state institutions and threats of extradition to Russia, followed by torture, prolonged imprisonment, or even death in their homeland.
The Vayfond attorneys believe that “the situation is exacerbated by the fact that the authorities in the EU countries (including France, Germany, Sweden, and Poland) prefer to put up with the threats looming over the refugees, who were previously released from prison, if they are extradited to Russia. In this manner, the German authorities did not accept a prominent Chechen’s line of reasoning and deported him to Russia, separating him from his family. The authorities of France, Germany, and Poland successively deported another Chechen, and he also ended up in Russia. Fearing for their lives, both Chechens have ﬂed Russia again.
The attitudes of different EU countries toward this issue varies quite a bit. France, Belgium and, less frequently, Germany are willing to provide protection to refugees, but only after appropriate judicial rulings have been made. Austria, Poland, Slovenia, and Greece prefer not to provide them with protection and instead hand them over to Russia. As for the countries in the Council of Europe, there is a mutual understanding and cooperation with Ukraine. We experienced absolute indifference on the part of the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to the Vayfond attorneys, “obvious bias or lack of professional competence on the part of Interpol employees, through whom the Russian authorities are able to persecute refugees and dissidents abroad. This bias is exacerbated by the deterioration of the perception of Chechens in particular, and Muslims from Russia in general, in terms of both the public and police professionals.”
Insiders claim that Kadyrov’s representatives command an excellent understanding of their European diasporas’ weak points and skillfully manipulate them, getting young Chechens involved in criminal activities or simply in violent confrontations, which draws the attention of law enforcement agencies.
The “revelations” of migrants about the difficulties of living in the EU, about suffering, and the lack of assistance from the state, human rights and humanitarian organizations, initiated by the authorities of the Chechen Republic, may also affect attitudes toward Chechens in Europe. Those “revelations” and the disturbances organized by Chechens in Europe are actively “highlighted” by the Russian media.
There is an effective use of negative attitudes toward political Islam and of the growing activity of rightwing political figures in Europe by the Russian administration, Russian special services, and the Chechen authorities. In public opinion, justice, the rule of law, and human rights are all inferior to safety and security sentiments.
In conclusion, the fundamental structures of international law enforcement, built up over many years, are being operationalized by Russia in its campaign against its own dissidents and minorities. Other countries need to be aware of the extensive abuse of Interpol and security cooperation by the Kremlin.
Email interview with Dr. Bromund, March 16, 2019.
Email interview with Dr. Bromund, March 16, 2019.
Email interview with Dr. Bromund, March 16, 2019.
Email interview with Dr. Bromund, March 16, 2019.
Dr. Denis Sokolov, ﬁeld research.
Dr. Denis Sokolov, ﬁeld research.
Dr. Denis Sokolov, ﬁeld research. Dr.
Denis Sokolov, ﬁeld research.
Information provided by Vayfond