Russians seeking asylum in Ukraine

August 16, 2012

To be quite honest, Ukraine it not one of the nations that most would consider seeking asylum in.  Those that do are normally en route to the EU via Ukraine and caught, or returned to Ukraine under the EU/Ukraine readmission agreement and thus forced to claim asylum in Ukraine rather than their intended destination, or be returned home.

Only a few days ago, Ukraine decided to deport Adam Osmayev to Russia for allegedly plotting the assassination of then Prime Minister, now President Putin, during events just prior to his reelection as President of the Russian Federation.

Unfortunately for Mr Osmayev, together with 2 others, they came to Odessa to allegedly plot the assassination of Mr Putin whilst he was traveling in his motorcade but unwittingly blew up the apartment they were holed up in, in the centre of Odessa.  Somehow the bomb they were making managed to go off injuring and/or killing the  seemingly would-be conspirators.

Now of course, planning terrorists acts, blowing up apartments in central Odessa, possessing various prohibited items etc are all crimes in Ukraine just as they are anywhere else.  My contacts within the Odessa SBU from the very start stated that the devastation caused by the explosion was indeed the result of a bomb rather than gas leak etc as some media initially reported.  Needless to say they didn’t speculate at that time, to me at least, why such a bomb had been assembled by Russians in Odessa.

Local media made a fairly natural assumption, once the fact it was a bomb was made known, that it was hired killers that had come to settle some kind of business and/or political dispute in Odessa.  A reasonable assumption given that such killings are not exactly unknown here although much rarer than they once were.

Needless to say when rumours did start spreading that the real target was Putin in mid-electioneering, then it was widely assumed to be incorrect and an incident used for electioneering purposes in Russia.

However, despite the crimes that Mr Osmayev seemingly carried out on Ukrainian soil, an Odessa court ruled he should be extradited back to Russia.  Mr Osmayev appealed that ruling, but two days ago the Odessa Court of Appeal upheld the extradition ruling.

Naturally Mr Osmayev is now appealing to the ECfHR.  As an ethnic Chechen accused of plotting to assassinate Mr Putin, and being returned to Russian for trial, you would wouldn’t you – guilty or not!  So for now it seems Mr Osmayev remains in prison in Odessa pending ECfHR appeals.

This has nothing to do with Russians seeking asylum in Ukraine per se, other than the willingness of Ukraine to return Mr Osmayev to Russia despite obvious concerns over the due process and treatment he may very well receive.

However, the announcement that his appeal in Odessa has not been granted comes the day after a Russian opposition activist and his journalist wife arrived in Ukraine and claimed political asylum.  Indeed Alexie Devyatkin and his wife Jenny Kurpin applied for political asylum on Monday and on Tuesday Mr Osmayev’s appeal was denied.

Now historically both Ukrainians and Russians wanted in either nation have simply crossed the border and there seems to have been an unwritten gentleman’s agreement between both nations that they will act as a safe haven for those who have fallen out with the powerful on either side of the border.  Thus deportation extradition requests are  often refused but cause no real damage to bilateral relations.

It is not always the case, but it is the case in the majority of instances.

There is a massive gulf between the supposed circumstances surrounding Mr Osmayev and that of Mr Devyatkin and wife quite obviously.  For a start, Mr Osmayev could be jailed in Ukraine for a very long time for the offences he allegedly committed in Odessa whereas Mr Devyatkin and wife have committed no crimes within the territory of Ukraine that I am aware of.

It maybe argued that all concerned have in some way plotted to, or have risen up against the State of Russian with violence as part or the whole of their tool bag, but any reasonable man would see a massive difference between plotting to assassinate Putin and fisty-cuffs with the Moscow riot police.

I must also raise the issue of what crimes, if any, did Mr Osmayev actually commit on Russian soil.  An act more than preparatory to the commission of this offence?  Conspiracy possibly?  Certainly the assembly of the bomb occurred, with devastating results, in Odessa, where he was detained and has been held ever since.

That said, the Pussy Riot case seems to bring into doubt whether there are any reasonable men in the Russian judiciary when considering the time they have spent in jail already for the actions they took.  Proportionality?

Given the Pussy Riot example, Mr Devyatkin and wife may very well be justified in expecting a completely disproportionate response to their alleged actions from Russian authorities and may consider they have every reason to try and claim asylum.

However – is asylum and/or deportation based around the circumstances leading up to an individuals detention/request for asylum when making the decision to deport (or not) – or is it based upon reasonable belief that if deported they will be treated fairly and/or humanely (or not) when facing what they are accused of in a foreign State?

If Ukraine believes that Mr Osmayev will be given a fair trial, will be treated humanely and his basic fundamental human rights will be protected when returned to Russia for trial – given he is a Chechen accused of plotting to assassinate President Putin (and it must believe this when ruling to deport him rather than deal with the offences he committed in Ukraine) – then what hope can there be that Ukraine will take a different view over two minor league Russian opposition activists who got involved in a small brawl with Moscow’s riot police?

Now that said, undoubtedly there will be those within the Kremlin who want Mr Osmayev returned with much greater verve in comparison to two minor league opposition activists who may well be considered out of sight and out of mind if allowed to remain in Ukraine – but it would seem that when considering the human rights issues relating to deportation to Russia that lay in wait for all concerned in abstract from all other influences, if Mr Osmayev can be returned, then the Russian little-league opposition activists will surely follow.

Then again, Ukraine doesn’t really do abstract as well as it does opaque or real politik – so let’s wait and see.

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