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Razvozzhaev Case: No Pretence of Rule of Law

Halya Coynash

Leonid Razvozzaev (Photo TV Dozhd)

While the Ukrainian authorities continue to deny any involvement in the abduction of Russian opposition figure and asylum seeker Leonid Razvozzhaev, their Russian counterparts may be using inadmissible pressure on him to trump up charges against prominent opposition figures.

On Thursday Deputy Prosecutor General Pryshko assured a Verkhovna Rada committee that they had carried out the relevant checks and found no evidence of SBU (Security Service) or Interior Ministry involvement in the abduction

On the same day, Volodymyr Lytvyn, former Speaker and now head of the parliamentary committee on national security, claimed that the surprise replacement of SBU Head Kalininin by Oleksandr Yakimenko was in connection with the Razvozzhaev case.  Aside from saying that this was the President’s “absolute right” and that it was linked with the need to ensure greater efficiency of national security measures, he gave no other grounds for this interpretation.

Presumably the conclusion intended is that the Ukrainian Security Service was caught unawares, and knew nothing about the planned abduction. We are then expected to believe that outraged by this breach in security, President Yanukovych stepped in. His choice, if Lytvyn is right, is at very least curious. Yakimenko was until 1998 an officer in the Russian Armed Forces, serving in Mongolia and the Crimea.   Radio Svoboda reports that aside from being a former Deputy Head of the SBU it is not known what he was doing in Ukraine over the next ten years nor how he obtained Ukrainian citizenship.  He would seem also to have a negative attitude to the media.

Meanwhile in Russia…

On 10 January the Russian media reported that Leonid Razvozzhaev “has agreed” to the charges against him in Siberia over an alleged robbery in 1999 being dropped as time-barred.  The charges were laid in Moscow literally a day or two before the case had to be dropped because the 15 year period had elapsed.  They were pulled out only after Razvozzhaev was brought back to Moscow where he supposedly “handed himself in” and “confessed” to organization of mass riots as per an anti-opposition film on the pro-Kremlin NTV channel.

The whole situation is quite unclear since he would seem to have asked for the case to be dropped as time-barred (according to Russian law not a “rehabilitating circumstance”) yet is not confessing to the crime.  Moreover the statement has just been received through the post by Razvozzhaev’s lawyer, Dmitry Agranovsky yet is dated 15 December.  The lawyer asserts that the document means that there were no grounds at all for sending his client to Siberia.  Razvozzaev is now apparently on his way to Irkutsk. He said from the outset that he believed pressure would be placed on him and stated via his lawyer that any changes in his testimony would be through coercion. 

Razvozzaev’s statements to human rights workers and his lawyer have thus far given the lie to the various charges put forward by the Russian investigators and seldom gel with the Ukrainian authorities’ line.

Leonid Razvozzhaev was abducted in the middle of the day on 17 October when he stepped out for a bite to eat while completing his application for asylum at a Kyiv partner to the UNHCR partner.  His cries for help were heard from the office, and he was seen being forced into a car with Ukrainian number plates.  He was then taken across the border into Russia, where on 19 October a Moscow court remanded him in custody for 2 months, with this later extended.  There had been no extradition request and Razvozzaev was in Ukraine legally.  He was also, effectively, an asylum seeker and therefore under international protection.

The UNHCR were swift in issuing a statement of protest.  The Ukrainian authorities said nothing and have never made any protest.  The Human Rights Ombudsperson, according to a news report, asked the authorities for information but has since consistently ignored questions regarding their response.  Valeria Lutkovska was equally unforthcoming over the forced return of another asylum seeker to the Russian Federation in August 2012.

The response from the Interior Ministry, on the other hand, was simply incredible.  On 24 October spokesperson Volodymyr Polishchuk was able to say that no criminal investigation would be initiated since a foreign national had been abducted by a foreign security service and the latter did not share their information.

The Interior Ministry was informed back in October that the abduction was by a security service yet is continuing to deny that the SBU was in any way involved.

This is but one aspect of a shameful case which should leave no doubts in the mind of any prospective asylum seeker where not to seek protection under international law.  It raises questions as to both Ukraine and Russia’s commitment to rule of law in general, though unfortunately the questions are becoming increasingly rhetorical. 

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