Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 12

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov today summoned James Collins, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, and officially demanded that Borodin be freed “immediately and unconditionally.” For his part, Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka called Borodin’s arrest “an extremely unfriendly act by the United States in relation to Belarus and Russia and, above all, their union, for which Borodin is now working as secretary.” The official Ria-Novosti news agency, citing “an informed source in the Russian capital,” reported that the Russian reaction to Borodin’s arrest would be “harsh.” The source emphasized that Borodin had traveled to United States not on a private visit, but to attend the presidential inauguration–an “extremely important circumstance” which, the source said, the American authorities had disregarded. Meanwhile, a source in the Prosecutor General’s Office was quoted as saying that Borodin’s arrest may have been “a signal” to the Russian authorities to soften their position vis-a-vis Media-Most chief Vladimir Gusinsky, who is awaiting possible extradition to Russia on charges of large-scale fraud after being arrested in Spain.

Strangely, at first glance, Borodin, a long-time associate of former President Boris Yeltsin, who was reviled by Russia’s communists and their allies, received verbal support from representatives of the erstwhile “leftist opposition.” Nikolai Kharitonov, head of the Agrarian-Industrial group in the State Duma, condemned Borodin’s arrest, contrasting it with the fact that it took place just after Putin freed “an American spy”–Edmond Pope. “Borodin is not the issue–they can arrest any Russian citizen,” Kharitonov said. State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev asked why Washington, having already received the Swiss warrant for Borodin, nonetheless issued him a visa. According to Seleznev, the U.S. State Department “granted the visa in order to create a scandal at the border.” Gennady Raikov, leader of the pro-Putin People’s Deputy faction in the State Duma, called Borodin’s arrest an expression of the “legal bespredel [a Russian word connoting lawlessness and criminality] which the United States instills throughout the world.” “The United States thinks it is the most important country in the world and can do whatever it wants,” Raikov said. Not surprisingly, one of the more radical reactions came from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party, who said that Russia must react harshly to Borodin’s arrest. Zhirinovsky insisted that the U.S. embassy in Moscow must have known about Borodin’s arrest in advance, because it had issued the visa. Given such “perfidy” by the United States, Zhirinovsky concluded, Moscow must “arrest several Americans on the territory of Russia about whom the Russian organs have corresponding material.” Likewise, Vasily Shandybin, a Communist MP well known for his outbursts in the Duma–but less known for defending Yeltsin cronies–said that Borodin was arrested “as a Russian person and a patriot who did not allow the Kremlin to be sold.”

The liberal deputies’ reaction was somewhat different. Sergei Ivanenko, first deputy chairman of Yabloko’s Duma faction, said that Borodin’s arrest was a blow to the country’s prestige and aroused a feeling of shame. Ivanenko said the Russian law enforcement agencies must fight corruption, and the fact the Prosecutor General’s Office shut down the Mabetex case showed that all is not well in that office. Irina Khakamada, a Duma vice speaker and member of the Union of Right-Wing Forces, said that she saw no political motives in Borodin’s arrest. Vladimir Lukin, also a Duma vice speaker, a member of Yabloko and former ambassador to the United States, said it was useless to appeal to the American authorities for Borodin’s release because the American judicial system “is not subordinated to anyone.” The American courts, Lukin said, can jail anyone, “even a president, if there are grounds” (Russian agencies, January 18).