Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule has made his country one of the worst places on the planet to be a journalist. As of 2021, Russia ranked 150 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index compiled by international nonprofit Reporters Without Borders. Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images.
Calling “neutrality” the cornerstone of their organization, Interpol officials refused to suspend Russia from the global police institution following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. But they pledged new measures to keep Russian cops from using Interpol’s databases to target Ukrainians or domestic dissidents on the run from Vladimir Putin’s regime.
The US and its fellow members in the “Five Eyes” intelligence network have urged Interpol to suspend Russia, a nation critics say routinely abuses Interpol’s databases to harass dissidents living abroad by hampering their mobility and urging unwitting foreign police organizations in 193 other nations to jail innocent members of the Russian diaspora who defy Putin.
In a prepared statement sent to Coffee or Die Magazine Thursday, March 10, Interpol officials said Secretary General Jürgen Stock ordered “heightened supervision and monitoring measures in relation to Russia,” a decision blessed by the institution’s Executive Committee.
Beginning Thursday, Stock banned Russia from sending “diffusions” — informal demands from the National Crime Bureau in Moscow for information about suspects or to arrest them — to members of the organization. From now on, all requests must go directly to Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, for review.
Interpol indicated that the organization was already using the same standard to monitor Russia’s use of color-coded notices. The most important of these are the Red Notices — requests by police organizations for overseas agencies to locate and arrest suspected criminals before extraditing them back home.
US Department of Justice officials did not reply to Coffee or Die‘s messages seeking comment, and it remains unclear whether Stock’s efforts will appease any of the “Five Eyes.” On Thursday, British officials in the alliance nixed all extradition agreements with the Kremlin.
Interpol indicated that Stock might enact other unspecified measures “on an urgent basis” and “if the need arises.”
In Paris, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs lauded Interpol’s move to impose stiffer enforcement standards over Russia’s activities at Interpol.
Conceding Interpol is under pressure “at the political level” to suspend or boot Russia from the organization, officials defended Stock’s decision on Russia by saying other nations wanted to keep cooperating with the Kremlin, “highlighting serious security and safety concerns if information sharing is stopped.”
Interpol claimed that checks against its databases by police agencies along Ukraine’s border identified suspects wanted by four different countries. Coffee or Die couldn’t independently verify the claim.
So far in 2022, nearly 60,000 similar checks were made using database information supplied by Russia, officials said.
A 2021 report from the British nonprofit Freedom House also detailed the Kremlin’s persistently flagrant misuse of notices and diffusions, describing it as part of a larger “political warfare” strategy to hijack international organizations and use them to repress dissidents and curtail criticism of the regime before it reaches Russia’s citizens.
To Freedom House, Russia too often has successfully paired its abuse of Interpol’s systems with other “highly aggressive transnational repression activities abroad,” including overseas assassinations and beatings.
“It sounds like the Executive Committee was unwilling to suspend Russia, so they compromised on these oversight measures,” Ted R. Bromund, a scholar at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation who champions standing up to Russia and reforming Interpol, wrote in an email to Coffee or Die.
Bromund previously predicted this was exactly the easy path Interpol would take.
“Eliminating the Russian ability to send diffusions without supervision is good, but the point of a suspension was to make it clear to everyone — Russia and other abusers — that abuse was against the rules and would not be tolerated,” he said. “Oversight measures will not have the same impact. This is basically the birds coming home to roost from the democratic defeat in the fall 2021 Interpol elections.”
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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