Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Russia’s Interference in the US Judiciary – Atlantic Council EURASIA CENTER

Russia’s Interference in the US Judiciary

Atlantic Council


Anders Åslund


Under President Vladimir Putin, lawlessness has taken over the Russian state, including its law enforcement branch. A multitude of Russian state agencies collude in criminal activities to the material benefit of the officials involved. These crimes are supported by the top echelons of the government, most notably by Putin himself; they involve state enterprises, the Central Bank of Russia, the Deposit Insurance Agency, and all law enforcement bodies, including the Investigative Committee, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Interior, and the prison service. These state officials also cooperate with organized criminals and professional private lawyers.

Russian state power legitimizes this lawlessness and gives it an official state sanction. This makes it easier for these actors to successfully use the United States legal system, which tends to give foreign governments the benefit of the doubt in legal cases. Thus, the Kremlin has exploited the US judicial system to advance the Russian state’s corrupt corporate raiding and expropriation schemes. The US Congress and Department of Justice need to address this exploitation of the US judiciary for nefarious purposes and act decisively to safeguard US democratic institutions.

More broadly, Russian state agencies and their proxies are using the international judicial system to their advantage. This report focuses on the United States, but Russian authorities pursue similar activities in many countries. Red Notices issued by Interpol on the basis of flawed Russian evidence are common and many countries have received requests from Russian legal 1 Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-208 (2012). 2 US Department of State, Human Rights Report, 2017, authorities to enforce their judgments. In the US judiciary, three particular problems stand out: the generous provisions for opening a discovery case, the minimal statutory requirements for bankruptcy proceedings, and the enforcement of Russian court verdicts without considering the pervasiveness of corruption within the Russian judicial and law enforcement systems.

The United States has two important legal acts that can help it to target corrupt and lawless Russian officials. In December 2012, the US Congress adopted the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which sanctions forty-nine Russian officials.1 In December 2016, the US Congress adopted the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which sanctions violators of human rights around the globe. These are critical pieces of legislation, and the designation of additional sanctions targets is justified.

Additional measures are needed to stop the Russian state’s misuse of the US judicial system. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees should hold hearings about these cases of malpractice and Congress should consider legislation on the basis of such hearings. The Department of Justice or the State Department should establish a coordination office that would liaise with US courts; it would be a central site where victims of abuse by corrupt governments could submit evidence. The Department of Justice needs to issue clear guidelines to the courts regarding how to assess the validity of foreign justice systems. Such guidelines could be based on the State Department’s annual human rights report.