Protecting Its Own: Support for Russia's Federal Law on the Counteraction of Terrorism

By Cavaliero, Clare | The George Washington International Law Review, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Protecting Its Own: Support for Russia's Federal Law on the Counteraction of Terrorism


Cavaliero, Clare, The George Washington International Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence officer who had been fiercely critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was poisoned in London in 2006.1 United Kingdom investigators have identified Andrei K. Lugovoi2 as their primary suspect, but the retired KGB agent has consistently denied that he had any involvement in the murder.3 Alexander Litvinenko joined the Russian secret service-more commonly referred to as the KGB-in 1988, and was a middle-ranking Russian security service agent until he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the successor organization to the KGB, the Federal Security Service (FSB).4 The intelligence officer eventually betrayed his organization when he very publicly revealed that his superiors had ordered him to assassinate Boris Berezovsky, an "implacable political foe of Putin."5

Andrei Lugovoi arrived in London on November 1, 2006, to meet with Litvinenko, who had been living in England since 2000 when the country granted him political asylum.6 Suspiciously, November 1 is the same day Litvinenko fell ill.7 Litvinenko, who was only forty-three years old, "died three weeks after ingesting a toxic radioactive isotope, polonium-210, which made his hair fall out and ravaged his organs."8 In response to Litvinenko's death, the Crown Prosecution Service formally submitted an extradition request for Andrei Lugovoi to Moscow in May of 2007.9 Russia refused the demand to provide Lugovoi for trial in Britain, citing the Russian Constitution's prohibition on extraditing its citizens as legal grounds for its decision.10

Executions by a Russian secret service organization are seen as characteristic of the Russian Federation due to the widespread use of these practices by the Soviet Union from the 1930s through the 1950s.11 This less-than-favorable history coupled with Litvinenko's curious death were enough to incite an "outpouring of conspiracy theories" regarding the Russian state's involvement in the apparent homicide.12

On February 26, 2006, the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament, passed a law that provides the Russian president with authority to use the nation's armed forces and special services outside Russia's borders to combat terrorism and extrem- ism.13 In early March of 2006, just a few months before Litvinenko was murdered, the upper chamber of the federal parliament passed the bill.14 Then, a few short days after the legislation passed in the Federation Council, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Federal Law on the Counteraction of Terrorism on March 6, 2006.15 This federal law establishes a domestic legal basis for combating terrorism beyond the borders of Russia.16

While the Litvinenko murder has drawn international attention to the Federal Law on the Counteraction of Terrorism, the Kremlin has yet to claim any responsibility for the death of Litvinenko and has denied that this murder was committed under the authority of the recently enacted law.17 In fact, if Litvinenko's murder were purely punitive in nature, it would not fall within the parameters of the types of action the law intends to sanction.18 Yet, if Litvinenko, who had "close links" to the rebel Chechen Islamists,19 had been conspiring to commit a terrorist attack on Russian citizens, his murder may have been a preventative measure, rendering it consistent with both Russian domestic law and customary international law.20

The 2006 Federal Law on the Counteraction of Terrorism maintains much of what was established by the 1998 Russian Law on the Fight Against Terrorism , but also extends that law and amends additional previous legislation.21 Although the Russian law may seem extreme regarding the types of activities it purports to legitimize, a number of other countries, including the United States, have been exercising similar authority and ordering targeted killings for some time.22

This Note will propose that Russia, and any other nation forced to defend itself against violent and debilitating terrorist attacks, ought to have the ability to send its military special services into foreign territories for the purpose of eliminating those who pose immediate terrorist threats to the nation's citizens and that the service members who perform the mission should be immune from prosecution by the country in which the execution occurs.

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