The decision of an American court, which sentenced Viktor Bout to 25 years in prison, has been called “unfounded” and “biased” in Moscow. Smolenskaya Square officials have promised to secure the repatriation of the Russian, declaring that the matter will become a priority in talks with Washington. Experts have evaluated whether Russian authorities have a chance at success. Moscow will take all necessary steps to repatriate the Russian citizen Viktor Bout, who was convicted of arms trafficking, and will make this matter a priority in negotiations with Washington, said the Russian foreign ministry.
Sentenced in Advance
“The Russian foreign ministry regards the verdict of the U.S. court… as unfounded and biased. Despite the insubstantial evidence and the illegal grounds of his arrest by U.S. secret agents in Thailand and further extradition, the U.S. legal authorities, in carrying out an obvious political order, ignored the arguments of lawyers and numerous appeals at various levels in defense of the Russian citizen,” said an official statement by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.
The sentencing of the Russian citizen was declared on Thursday by the judge of the federal district court of the southern district of New York. According to the court’s decision, the convict will spend 25 years in confinement and have to pay a fine of $15 million. In his final statement, Bout denied all accusations. “You won't answer to me, you will answer to God. And time, my country and my countrymen will answer for me,” he declared.
The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that Bout had been declared a “merchant of death” long before his sentencing. “The prosecution itself was built entirely on his imputed ‘criminal intent.’ Hence, they made attempts to force a confession by creating unbearable conditions of detention and of physical and psychological pressure. The smear campaign unleashed in the American mass media, aimed at influencing the jurors and the process of the trial as a whole ‘in the necessary direction,’ is absolutely unacceptable,” the ministry stressed.
“Enemy Number One”
Russian parliamentarians commented no less emotionally on the verdict Friday. “The sentence of Viktor Bout announced yesterday in New York will undoubtedly be received negatively in Russia on the levels of both public opinion and official structures, which have repeatedly expressed their disagreement with this trial. The recent decision of an American court regarding the Cravers, a couple who killed their adopted Russian son, Vanya Skorobogatov, has already evoked huge indignation in Russia,” state Duma foreign affairs committee chairman Aleksei Pushkov told RIA News.
In his opinion, Bout, unlike the Cravers, never committed such a crime. The contrast between the actions of the American court in these two cases, he said, “is striking.” “All of this, side by side with a number of other conflict situations, unfortunately creates an unfavorable background for a new era of Russian-American relations,” he said. In his judgment, “The keys to the improvement of relations are in the hands of the American side.”
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, declared that the U.S. wanted to humiliate Russia with the verdict. “The sentence against Viktor Bout is a cynical, arbitrary act,” he said. “The decision has no relation at all to justice, and this whole history with Bout is an unbroken chain of provocations. Besides, if the Americans can put Bout away for a hypothetical deal on the sale of airplanes into Columbia, and if weapons for the hypothetical killing of American citizens could theoretically be transported on those planes, then how many Americans should be put away for the occupation of Afghanistan, after which a flood of opium poppy has poured into our country?” he said indignantly in a interview with Interfax.
“It became a matter of honor for the U.S. to sentence Viktor Bout to the maximum term. The preparation for this began quite long ago, even at the time of the filming of ‘Lord of War,’” Aleksei Mukhin, general director of the Political Information Center, told Vzglyad.
In the political scientist’s words, it became understood precisely from that moment that “the court trial of Viktor Bout was part of a grand political spectacle, by which it was necessary to highlight certain peculiarities of the Russian political regime for the American public.” “It is a product for internal American consumption; therefore, it is of very little concern to Russia,” explained Mukhin. “The Hollywood script involving Bout was intended to stress that Russia, as before, is America’s enemy number one, and – this is the main thing – that it poses a danger to American citizens.”
“Indeed, this ‘message’ (here he used the English word) was reinforced by the tough sentence against Bout. I would even say unjustifiably tough,” the political scientist summed up, adding that Russia has a minimal chance of repatriating Bout, and the change of presidents in Russia and the U.S. will have no effect on the matter.
It Will Drag on a Year
Opportunities for repatriating Bout nevertheless exist. “As far as I know, we have no agreements with the United States providing for the possibility of serving a sentence in one’s home country. But, first of all, that does not exclude the possibility of individual agreements for Bout’s serving out his sentence, as was the case with Yamadaev’s killers. Secondly, it does not exclude the possibility of an exchange in the event that some U.S. citizen is convicted in Russia sometime for something,” Judge Mikhail Barshchevsky, the plenipotentiary representative of the Russian Federation government in higher courts, told Vzglyad.
He also added that “such a sentence is evidence of the court’s admission of the weakness of the accusation because, in light of the jurors’ verdict, it was the minimum possible sentence. So I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of court proceedings inside the U.S.”
Senator Mikhail Kapura, a member of the Upper House’s committee on courts, supposes that in the case of Bout, Moscow, lacking a bilateral agreement with the U.S. on the extradition of convicts, could appeal to an analogous international convention, which was concluded in 1983 in Strasbourg and joined by the E.U., U.S. and Russia. “In accordance with the convention, a convicted individual in the signatory countries may be handed over to the country of that person’s citizenship. There are a lot of limitations in it. Namely, the judicial act must enter into force against the convict, the convict himself must agree to the extradition and Russia will have to petition for it through the competent organs,” the senator explained.
At the same time, the Americans may refuse extradition without any justification, a possibility he did not exclude. He said that in his judgment “serving his sentence in Russia will not satisfy American justice.”
In the latter case, Russian authorities can try to secure a repeal of the decision on extradition from Thailand to the U.S. that was pronounced in 2010, said Douglas McNabb, a criminal attorney specializing in international law. “If the trial continues and the court holds that the extradition was illegal, the Thai government will be entitled in accordance with a U.S.-Thai extradition treaty to legitimately demand Bout's return,” he told the Russian Legal Information Agency.
On the possibility of obtaining Bout’s return, Mikhail Fedotov, head of the president’s council on human rights, expressed his doubt about the measure’s success.
Bout’s own lawyer, Viktor Burobin, said that he is first determined to go through the procedure of appealing the sentence and only then will consider other variants/options. “Now we have to go through the appeals procedures in the appellate court and in the Supreme Court. I think there are grounds for the release of Bout,” he said.
Still, in the estimation of Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the State Duma’s Committee for Legislation, the procedure might take at least a year. “Nonetheless, the procedure exists, and it is necessary to use it. Concerning extradition, when such a serious crime is involved, there is practically no chance. But theoretically, it is possible. Therefore, of course the foreign ministry must do everything, whatever it may be, to try to extradite a Russian citizen to Russia,” the parliament member added.
*Editor’s note: Some conflicting statements were made in this article regarding Bout's actual sentence. Bout was sentenced to the minimum sentence for his charges.
Edited by Katie Marinello