The Russian Constitution forbids extradition of Lugavoi


Article 81(3) of the Russian Constitution states:


“One and the same person may not be elected President of the Russian Federation for more than two terms running.” [1]


Just suppose that, despite this clear ban in the Russian Constitution on a third presidential term, Vladimir Putin announced his intention to seek re-election in 2008.  It is a pound to a penny that there would be howls of protest from the British Government that Putin was acting unconstitutionally and that the rule of law was being abandoned in Russia. 


Article 61(1) of the Russian Constitution states:


“A citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deported from Russia or extradited to another State.” [2]


Yet, when Russia refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, a Russian citizen, to Britain, the British Government deemed it as a hostile act and expelled four Russian diplomats in protest.  In this case, the British Government is demanding that Russia acts unconstitutionally.


(Remember this Russian Constitution was not drawn up by Vladimir Putin but by the West’s friend, Boris Yeltsin, and came into operation in December 1993).


Ambassador lectures

The British Ambassador to Moscow, Sir Anthony Brenton expressed the opinion that Russia “could get around the prohibition if it wanted to cooperate in bringing Andrei Lugovoi to trial” (see The Times, 23 July 2007 [3]).  According to Sir Anthony, other Articles of the Constitution are continually breached, so why not breach Article 61.1 in order to extradite Andrei Lugavoi, he implied, though he put it more diplomatically:


“We are not asking Russia to violate its Constitution, but to work with us creatively to find a way around this impediment, given the serious and unprecedented nature of this murder. Such cooperation has not been forthcoming.”


The ambassador didn’t say how Russia could extradite a Russian citizen and avoid violating its Constitution, when its Constitution forbids the extradition of Russian citizens. 


On other occasions, the British Government has hinted that “a way around this impediment” might be found in Article 63.2 of the Constitution, which includes the following:


“The extradition of people accused of a crime, and also the handover of convicts for serving sentences in other States shall be carried out on the basis of the federal law or the international agreement of the Russian Federation.”


However, given the ban on the extradition of Russian citizens in Article 61.1, the last sentence there obviously refers to the extradition of individuals who are not Russian citizens.  Perhaps, the “creativity” that the ambassador has in mind is that a pretence be made that Article 63.2 applies to Russian citizens.


The Ambassador went on to say that “there was no comparison between this case and the refusal by British courts to extradite the exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky and the Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev to Russia”, because


“It is the Russian Government, not the courts, who have decided not to extradite. It was done not on the basis of the evidence submitted, but on the basis of an alleged constitutional ban without any supporting evidence or desire to work constructively around this issue. And that is unsatisfactory.”


Alleged constitutional ban?  What part of Article 61(1) does the Ambassador not understand?  The ban on extraditing Russian citizens in Article 61(1) of the Constitution is crystal clear.  If Russia were to extradite Andrei Logavoi to Britain, it would be breaking the fundamental law of the Russian state. 


Ambassador Brenton has a reputation for interfering in the internal affairs of Russia, no doubt with the backing of the Foreign Office.  In July 2006, he attended a Russian opposition conference and made a supportive speech at it.  Now, he lectures Russians about their constitution, with the arrogance of a viceroy dealing with a colony.  Just think of the outcry there would be in London or Washington if the Russian Ambassador interfered in the internal affairs of the UK or the US in a similar manner.


Since Ambassador Brenton spoke at the opposition conference in July2006, he has been harassed by Nashi, a nationalist youth movement that supports Putin, who trail him wherever he goes.  You can understand why. 


Boris Berezovsky

A word on Boris Berezovsky.  For better or worse, Boris Berezovsky has been granted asylum in Britain and therefore he cannot be extradited to Russia.  But, while living in comparative safety in Britain, protected by British police, Berezovsky is plotting to overthrow the Putin regime by force.  He has freely admitted this to The Guardian, which reported on 13 April 2007:


“The Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has told the Guardian he is plotting the violent overthrow of President Putin from his base in Britain after forging close contacts with members of Russia’s ruling elite.  … the multimillionaire claimed he was already bankrolling people close to the president who are conspiring to mount a palace coup.  ‘We need to use force to change this regime’, he said. ‘It isn’t possible to change this regime through democratic means. There can be no change without force, pressure’. Asked if he was effectively fomenting a revolution, he said: ‘You are absolutely correct’.” [4]


To the best of my knowledge, Berezovsky has never been interviewed by the British police about these remarks, let alone charged with any offence.  Remember, it is an offence under Section 59 of the Terrorism Act 2000 [5] to incite another person to commit an act of terrorism outside the United Kingdom.  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that in his conversation with The Guardian he pleaded guilty to an offence under the Terrorism Act 2000.  So, one might have thought that he deserved to have his collar felt.


Russia has a legitimate gripe that Berezovsky hasn’t been interviewed let alone charged and can therefore continue to plot to overthrow the present Russian regime by force without fear of prosecution in Britain.


Putin and Blair have a row

One of the very few interesting items in Alastair Campbell’s diary extracts is an account of an almighty row between Blair and Putin in Moscow on 29 April 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq.  The row began in public at a joint press conference, where Putin mocked the notion that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction”, asking:


“Where is Saddam? Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if indeed they ever existed? Perhaps Saddam is still hiding somewhere in a bunker underground, sitting on cases of weapons of mass destruction and is preparing to blow the whole thing up …” (The Guardian, 30 April 2003, [6])


In private, according to Campbell, Putin complained bitterly about the unilateral behaviour of the US, and its adjunct the UK:


“He said the US had created this situation.  In ignoring the UN they had created danger.  They were saying there may be rules, but not for us.  Time and again he made comparisons with the situation he faced in Georgia, used as a base for terrorists against Russia.  … And what are they planning next – is it Syria, Iran, Korea?  ‘I bet they haven’t told you,’ he added with a rather unpleasant curl of the lip.  … He said the Americans’ enemy was anyone who didn’t support them at the time.”


Blair tried to explain to Putin that 9/11 had changed US attitudes, saying:


“Before, anti-Americanism was just an irritant that they put up with.  Now it became a threat.”


To which Putin said that “now anyone who disagreed with them on the choices was a threat”. 


Putin on the US

Putin has said similar things in public, most recently at the Munich Conference on Security Policy on 10 February 2007, where he mounted a ferocious attack on US behaviour in this world.  The following is an extract:


“Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. …


“We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. … One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. …


“And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasise this – no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race.


“The force’s dominance inevitably encourages a number of countries to acquire weapons of mass destruction.” [7]


NATO expansion

British politicians, and the British media, pretend that the assertiveness of Russia under Putin is unreasonable product of Putin’s character – or his history as a KGB officer – rather than an understandable reaction to the objective circumstances in which Russia finds itself today.


At the end of the Cold War, the West promised Gorbachev that NATO would not be extended eastwards, and, fool that he was, he took the West at its word and didn’t even insist that the promise be enshrined in a treaty.  In the words of former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov:

“In conversations with Mikhail Gorbachev, Eduard Shevardnadze and Dmitri Yazov, held in 1990-1991, i.e., when the West was vitally interested in the Soviet troop withdrawal from the German Democratic Republic and wanted us to ‘swallow the bitter pill’—the disintegration of the Warsaw Treaty Organization ... Francois Mitterrand, John Major, and [James] Baker, all of them said one and the same thing: NATO will not move to the east by a single inch and not a single Warsaw Pact country will be admitted to NATO. This was exactly what they said. These conversations were not codified in the form of official documents at that time.” (quoted in A Republic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America's Destiny by Pat Buchanan, see [8])


Today, Russia is surrounded by hostile NATO states armed by the US, which has extended its sphere of influence up to the borders of Russia in Eastern Europe and as far as central Asia.  Just think of the US reaction if the boot was on the other foot and Russia was arming Mexico and Canada in antagonism to the US.  Just think of the vindictiveness that the US has displayed towards tiny Cuba over the past 50 years.


International legitimacy

Despite the anti-American rhetoric from Putin, he has done very little to curb US activities in the world.  On the contrary, generally speaking Russia has helped provide a cloak of international legitimacy for US activities, even though, as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, it is in a position to prevent this.


For example, on Iraq, while Russia opposed the US/UK invasion, a few weeks after the row with Blair mentioned above, Russia voted for Security Council resolution 1483 [9], authorising the US/UK to occupy Iraq for the indefinite future and to sell its oil, and spend the proceeds.


On Iran, Russia has supported economic sanctions, as demanded by the US/EU, albeit belatedly and keeping them to a minimum.


As regards Lebanon, Russia has never voted for the interference in its internal affairs, inspired by the US and France, which began with Security Council resolution 1559 [10] in September 2004, but it has never done anything to stop the interference either by vetoing this or later resolutions.


On Palestine, Russia has very definitely provided a cloak of international legitimacy for US activities through its membership of the Quartet (along with the US, the EU and the UN).  It has always gone along with what the US wants.  For example, it supported the Quartet’s imposition of collective punishment on the Palestinian people because a majority of them voted for Hamas in January 2006.  And it supported the Quartet’s endorsement of the overthrow of the legitimate Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in June 2007.



David Morrison

Labour & Trade Union Review

31 July 2007










[7]  See