11 december / 2017

Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights and Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law Anatoly Viktorov in an interview with Rossiya Segodnya

Question: Why are we unable to do anything in the case of Viktor Bout, Konstantin Yaroshenko and many other Russian citizens who have been serving sentences in US prisons, many of them for years? Has Washington advanced any preconditions for turning them over to us, for example an exchange of prisoners?

Anatoly Viktorov: The Russian consular staff regularly visits Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko and maintains contact with their lawyers and families. They have taken action several times to alleviate these Russian citizens’ prison terms and conditions and to ensure their right to receive quality medical care.

Overall, we are unable to get things moving in the cases of the Russians who are serving prison terms in the United States because of the Americans’ categorical unwillingness to revise their sentences although they were often tried on contrived charges. Moreover, former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told us frankly that Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had flatly refused to plead guilty in court, would serve their full sentences to teach others not to follow suit. In other words, their fate should make our other compatriots who happened to be caught in the grip of “American justice” more compliant.

The Russian Foreign Ministry continues to do everything possible to return these Russian citizens home. We regularly discuss this issue with American officials at different levels, including high levels. This issue has been discussed many times during Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s conversations with his former and current counterparts – Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Rex Tillerson.

In February 2017, a personal written appeal for Yaroshenko’s pardon was delivered to President Donald Trump on behalf of the pilot’s mother. We are sorry to say that she did not survive the negative response she received from the US Department of State. Her heart stopped on May 7.

In June this year, Yaroshenko’s spouse sent a new appeal to President Trump, asking him to grant his mother’s last wish by releasing Konstantin who is suffering from numerous grave diseases. However, Washington officials refuse to discuss the situation with the illegally sentenced Russian pilot in spite of the obvious humanitarian circumstances. This is also true of our initiative, which we have proposed several times, that Konstantin be turned over to Russia in keeping with the 1983 Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

Question: The State Duma has adopted a law under which foreign media outlets receiving funds from abroad can be declared foreign agents. The Foreign Ministry has submitted its conclusions on this law. Will this law infringe on freedom of expression just as the United States has done with regard to Russian media outlets?

Anatoly Viktorov: This law has been adopted in response to US actions against the RT television network and the Sputnik radio and news agency and does not infringe on freedom of expression in any way.