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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Wags a Finger at Europe

APPutin and Chaika attending the opening Wednesday of a conference of prosecutors general of the Council of Europe.
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday took issue with Britain for granting asylum to a senior Chechen rebel and scolded Europeans for ignoring neo-Nazi marches and violations of the rights of ethnic Russians in Baltic countries.

While Putin did not explicitly cite Britain, the target of his criticism was clear.

"It is difficult for us to explain the refusal of certain countries to extradite those suspected of being implicated in terrorism, not to mention granting them political asylum," Putin said in a speech at the seventh session of the Conference of Prosecutors General of Europe at the President Hotel.

"In such cases," Putin said, "the corresponding international agreements should be followed precisely and unfailingly."

Forty-four prosecutors, including British Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, attended the conference, which was organized by the Council of Europe and was expected to include discussion of wrongly prosecuted suspects, witnesses, juveniles and prisoners.

Russian authorities have been infuriated with British officials for granting asylum to Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, who is wanted in Russia on suspicion of murder and kidnapping.

Earlier this week, Russia refused a visa to Tom de Waal, a former Moscow Times correspondent from Britain who wrote extensively on Chechnya and was an expert witness for the defense at Zakayev's 2003 extradition trial in London.

Responding to Putin's remarks, the British Embassy in Moscow sought to distance the British government from Zakayev's case.

"As we have said many times, extradition in the United Kingdom is a matter for the independent legal system, not for the government," an embassy spokesman said. "It is not a political decision. It is taken on legal grounds, in line with the U.K.'s international obligations."

Putin also warned Europeans against using human rights issues as an instrument for putting pressure on Russia. The president scolded foreign officials for permitting Nazi demonstrations in a Council of Europe member state, referring to an annual march in Latvia commemorating Nazi Germany's Waffen SS. Latvia has come under fire from Russia for seeking to marginalize, politically and legally, its substantial Russian minority.

"It is difficult for us to understand why in some countries officials turn a blind eye to the violations of the rights of Russian-speaking citizens," Putin said. "Why do they break up anti-fascist demonstrations but ignore marches of former Nazis? The fight against all manifestations of Nazism is the direct responsibility of every state."

Yury Chaika, recently appointed the prosecutor general, said the main function of his office was protecting individual rights. Chaika used the conference to boast of his accomplishments since taking office less than a month ago.

Oddly, Chaika then turned to the tenure of his predecessor, Vladimir Ustinov, noting that from 2001 to 2005, the Prosecutor General's Office investigated nearly 6 million complaints from citizens claiming rights violations during criminal prosecution or court proceedings.

"Almost 1.5 million of the complaints had grounds for the prosecutors to interfere, and the citizens' rights were restored," Chaika said.