The Long Arm of Vladimir Putin

By Dr Andrew Foxall

As Russia’s warfare in Ukraine continues to threaten peace in Europe, its lawfare goes unnoticed and unpunished. The Long Arm of Vladimir Putin shows the extent to which the Kremlin uses little-known bilateral legal agreements with Western countries to target opposition figures abroad.

Demonstrating the way in which Russia’s actions undermine the rule of law in the West, the report highlights a number of instances wherein Western countries are complicit in the Kremlin’s use of Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) to target its opponents, including: individuals linked with Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the Yukos affair; Bill Browder, and others connected to Hermitage Capital Management; and, Andrey Borodin and others involved with Bank of Moscow.

Western countries must now take action by reforming the MLAT in system in order that it is not used for arbitrary and unlawful persecution.

Key findings of the publication include:

  • Over the past 15 years, there has been – and continues to be – significant interchange between Western and Russian law-enforcement agencies, even in cases where Russia’s requests for legal assistance have been politically motivated.
  • One of the bases of this interchange is the ‘Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty’, a bilateral agreement that defines how countries co-operate on legal matters. Typically, the Kremlin will fabricate a criminal case against an individual, and then request, through the MLAT system, the co-operation of Western countries in its attempts to persecute said person – who all too often oblige.
  • Some Western countries, such as the UK, were quick to wake up to the threat posed by the Kremlin’s “lawfare”. From the early 2000s onwards, the UK repeatedly rejected Russia’s requests for legal assistance, arguing that these requests were politically motivated. Other countries, however, remain far too relaxed about collaborating with Russia.
  • Russia’s issuing of requests for mutual legal assistance was central to the Kremlin’s politically motivated campaign against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other individuals linked with the Yukos affair, and continues to be central to its campaign against Bill Browder and others connected to Hermitage Capital Management, and, Andrey Borodin and others linked to Bank of Moscow.

Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of the Russia Studies Centre at HJS and author of the report, commented: “The West must take a much more rounded view in its dealings with Russia. Russia is now an openly aggressive power whose leaders seek to dismantle the Western system, and they have said as much.

“At a time when the Kremlin is threatening European security, Western countries should not be aiding the Kremlin persecute its opponents. There needs to be a much greater appreciation in the West of the realities of contemporary Russia, not least the close connection between law and politics.”

The Long Arm of Vladimir Putin: How the Kremlin Uses Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties to Target its Opposition Abroad is available to download here.


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