Foreign Ministry Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law Konstantin Dolgov’s interview with Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, August 4, 2016
Question: The media have reported that Moscow is ready to exchange Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, now serving a prison term in the United States, for US citizens who have been convicted by Russian courts. Are Russia and the United States currently discussing prisoner exchanges?
Konstantin Dolgov: Indeed, we have repeatedly called on the US side, during our efforts to return Konstantin Yaroshenko home as soon as possible, to use the relevant international law mechanisms, including the 1983 Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which stipulates the possibility of exchanging and returning sentenced persons who would eventually serve prison terms at home. But, so far (we hope, so far) we have not heard the US side’s readiness for this.
We have also suggested some other options to the US side, including the possibility of US President Barack Obama pardoning Mr Yaroshenko. As his presidency draws to a close, President Obama has pardoned numerous prisoners, including those sentenced to life for grave crimes. Of course, neither Mr Yaroshenko nor Viktor Bout has committed any similar crimes. Their guilt was not proven during politically motivated trials. Their allegedly criminal intentions, for which they were sentenced in the United States, were not proven either.
The President of the United States could show mercy, considering the dire humanitarian plight of Mr Yaroshenko. So far, we do not see the US side’s readiness to meet our urgent requests halfway. Nor do we see a desire to assess the humanitarian nature of the situation with Mr Yaroshenko that was created by US special services and law enforcement agencies. For a long time, they have prevented him from undergoing a comprehensive medical check-up, and he is not receiving proper treatment. Of course, all this affects his health. US authorities which, unfortunately, ignore their international law obligations are responsible for the life and health of that Russian citizen.
We will continue our efforts to secure the release of Russian citizens. The US side is well aware of various options. Most importantly, the United States should show political will. So, far we don’t see such political will.
Question: Does this mean that the United States fails to reply to all our requests?
Konstantin Dolgov: Doubtless, we conduct one-sided dialogue with the US. We voice our concerns, suggest various options, including those that involve the Council of Europe Convention, but so far we do not see any readiness on the part of the United States.
Question: Has there been a response from the US authorities concerning a comprehensive medical exam of Konstantin Yaroshenko with the participation of Russian-speaking doctors?
Konstantin Dolgov: Regrettably, the US authorities have set many preconditions for this. For example, one of these is that each doctor should be licensed in New Jersey, where Yaroshenko is being kept in prison. We made different proposals but they remain unanswered. We are ready to accept a medical exam outside the prison; doctors do not have to be Russian but it is important that they speak the language. Our priority is to protect the health of a Russian citizen rather than press one of our proposals on the Americans. We are ready to be flexible but, regrettably, the Americans have done nothing so far.
Mr Yaroshenko says it’s a lie that he was granted proper medical aid.
When we spoke with Mr Yaroshenko over the phone, he confirmed that, just as the Russian authorities, he has very serious grounds for concern over his health. This is an urgent issue. Political aspects aside, the health of our citizen is at stake. We will insist that the US authorities take into account our concerns.
Question: What are his chances for returning home?
Konstantin Dolgov: As a diplomat I should remain optimistic but, unfortunately, there is no tangible headway on behalf of the US. However, this doesn’t mean that we will let it go, neither in Mr Yaroshenko’s case nor other similar incidents. That said, the politicisation of this strictly humanitarian issue has been over the top in Washington.
Question: What about the defence of the rights of another Russian citizen: Viktor Bout?
Konstantin Dolgov: Regrettably, Mr Bout is in a similar position. We are actively helping the attorneys of Mr Bout and Mr Yaroshenko but, regrettably, the US justice system is again demonstrating its biased attitude and reluctance to consider serious evidence that their attorneys have collected in favour of revising both cases.
Mr Bout is being kept in unacceptable conditions. He is still in a separate cell for the worst criminals, although the US authorities do not conceal that he is not a source of special concern and does not threaten US national security. For this reason, we cannot understand why he is still kept in this separate cell. All appeals by his attorneys remain unanswered, as well as their well-grounded requests to transfer him to the normal detention regime.
Luckily, he does not have health problems like Mr Yaroshenko. And like Mr Yaroshenko, he tries to keep himself in good shape and is not losing his spirit. We respect the courage of these people. Neither of them agreed to make a deal with the US authorities and admit their guilt, although attempts to subject them to wrongful psychological pressure continue. The refusal to transfer Mr Bout from a separate cell and denial of a medical exam for Mr Yaroshenko are indirect forms of this wrongful pressure.
Question: Has Russia been notified by the United States about a possibility of extraditing Ravil Mingazov, who is kept in Guantanamo? Could this happen under the current US Administration?
Konstantin Dolgov: I’ve seen these reports but there was no official notification. We hope that after this decision, if it is confirmed, the US authorities will release Mingazov without delay and extradite him to Russia. Our Embassy is maintaining contact with the US authorities on this issue.
After 14 years the Americans admitted that it is inexpedient to keep Mr Mingazov in this special prison. Well, better late than never. We believe his rights and lawful interests were crudely violated from the start and under the US legislation as well. This is unacceptable. Now the Obama Administration is making frenzied attempts to shut down this prison or transfer it somewhere else or scatter the prisoners, because Congress does not consent to transferring them to US territory.
Question: Are you going to visit the United States in the near future to discuss the adoption of Russian children? Has the US side confirmed its readiness to discuss Russia’s concerns?
Konstantin Dolgov: In a note sent to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the US side refused point-blank to hold special meetings of the Russian interdepartmental delegation with the US State Department and the Department of Justice to discuss a host of long overdue bilateral problems of the adoption issue. We have been actively proposing such meetings during the past few months, since last year. This and other notes confirm that Washington continues to hold a very unconstructive position on this urgent humanitarian issue. The US approach shows that Washington is merely paying lip service to its commitment to the protection of the rights and legal interests of US-adopted Russian children. The US attempt to erode the discussion of this issue in a bilateral consular dialogue is obviously at variance with its importance and scale.
This irresponsible position of the US confirms once again that the passing of the Dima Yakovlev Law that banned adoptions of Russian children by US citizens in December 2012 was well grounded. Washington is doing harm to itself by occupying this position.
We are not avoiding consular dialogue, but this issue is much too urgent to be discussed only within its framework. We are ready to discuss it there, too, but there was a special channel of dialogue that the Americans are closing down now. This is regrettable and shows their reluctance to seriously resolve the accumulated problems. We hope they will revise their position. I’m ready to come to the United States any time or meet them here to discuss these problems. At any rate, we’ll continue using all available political and diplomatic means for insisting on strict observance of the rights, freedoms and legal interests of Russian minors in American adoptive families. We hope international organisations and agencies, including the UN Human Rights Council and human rights champions, will pay special attention to this issue, which we consider a priority.
Question: Has Moscow received any official notice regarding the detention of Russian citizen Dmitry Ukrainsky in Thailand at the request of the FBI?
Konstantin Dolgov: So far, according to available information, there has been no such official notification from the Thai side about the arrest of the Russian citizen, nor has there been a reply to the note sent by the Embassy of Russia in Bangkok on July 16. The note emphasised the unacceptability of extraditing the Russian citizen to the United States and the need to resolve the issue exclusively by legal means.
Currently, talks between the prosecutor general’s offices are underway in Thailand, and issues related to Dmitry Ukrainsky’s case are being discussed as well. I can confirm that the Prosecutor General’s Office had sent a request to the Thai authorities regarding extradition of the Russian citizen to Russia.
We hope that our Thai partners will not succumb to pressure from Washington, which is demanding the extradition of Mr Ukrainsky to the United States, as was the case with Viktor Bout in 2011.
Question: What are the odds of our request for extradition being granted? Washington sent its preliminary inquiry first, followed by Russia.
Konstantin Dolgov: The general prosecutor's offices are discussing this issue. We hope that Thailand will take into account the friendly relations between our countries and will extradite Mr Ukrainsky to his country of citizenship. The American practice of hunting for our citizens all over the world is totally unacceptable. It constitutes a violation of international law and US-Russia bilateral agreements, in particular, the 1999 agreement on mutual legal assistance. We will continue to strongly protest and fight such practices regardless of whether a particular citizen is guilty or not guilty.
In this particular case, the Russian investigators have reasons to believe that Mr Ukrainsky has violated Russian laws. If so, the investigation should take place in Russia, and procedures must be held in Russia as well. If the Americans are interested in combating crime, we should work on this together within the legal framework and according to the rules.
Question: Mr Ukrainsky’s detention in Thailand at the US request is not the first such case. What legal steps can be taken to protect Russian citizens?
Konstantin Dolgov: We are holding consultations with Thailand to expand and adapt the legal framework in order to avoid, in future, situations involving violations of the rights of our citizens, and, at the same time, to provide closer cooperation through our prosecutor general’s offices and ministries of justice to address the issues of combating crime.
Incidents similar to those of Viktor Bout and Dmitry Ukrainsky, which will, hopefully, not materialise, should be avoided in the first place. I think it is not only in our interests, but in Thailand’s interests as well.
Question: Racial discrimination in the US was a major domestic issue during the presidency of Barack Obama. What, do you think, should the next president do to address this?
Konstantin Dolgov: The problem of racial discrimination in the United States has been in a latent phase for many decades and has recently become exacerbated. Clearly, all attempts by the Obama administration to bring relief to this situation using some half-hearted measures have failed, and protests are gaining momentum. Unfortunately, things are getting worse and are further provoked by disproportionate actions by the police, who often kill unarmed black US citizens in situations where they do not pose an immediate threat. This has happened on many occasions, and American law enforcement agencies should deal with these situations on their own.
We believe that the issue should be addressed systematically and consistently. Providing concrete recipes would not be correct, but I think that the American authorities should have a pretty clear idea of what racial discrimination is all about. Most importantly, they should focus on human rights in their own country and refrain from mentoring other nations, including Russia. They should cut down on lecturing others, and focus more on human rights in their own country, because what is happening there is a major widespread human rights issue. This problem is recognised by the Obama administration, because not recognising it is impossible. We have yet to see effective steps, though. I think that the next US president, whoever it may be, will have to deal with a difficult and complex legacy.
Question: You recently said that Russia had asked Kiev to provide information about Russians who are serving time in Ukraine. Did you receive an answer? When can we expect them to be exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners in Crimea? Are there any preliminary estimates regarding the number of prisoners? What are the Ukrainian authorities promising?
Konstantin Dolgov: On June 28, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent to the Ukrainian Embassy in Russia a note concerning the failure to submit, or delayed submission, by the Ukrainian side, of information about detained Russian citizens in Ukraine. In this document, the Foreign Ministry also asked to provide the exact number of Russian citizens in pre-trial and other detention centres in Ukraine. No reply has yet been received.
According to human rights activists, and based on requests by relatives of the detained Russian citizens, we note that the problem has taken on a systemic dimension. The Ukrainian authorities do not provide information about the death, arrest or detention of Russian citizens on their territory, and do not provide timely consular access, which violates the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the bilateral consular agreement. We will seek an answer to this note.
Unfortunately, the Ukrainian authorities are no strangers to violations of international law and bilateral agreements with Russia. We will seek to redress this situation and to investigate all cases where there’s information about the use of torture with regard to our citizens. The time is ripe to put an end to arbitrary behaviour in Ukraine, and Kiev should revise its position and listen to the demands of international human rights organisations and the UN Human Rights Council.
Reportedly, Ukraine may have hundreds of people who have been charged with political accusations related to the internal Ukrainian conflict in Donbass. We believe that the Ukrainian side will not delay its response to our request, and that it will be meaningful.