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U.S. asks Brazil to extradite Russian spy who posed as scholar

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The US has requested Brazil to extradite an alleged Russian spy charged final month by the Justice Division with posing as a overseas scholar in Washington whereas finishing up espionage operations towards the West, in keeping with U.S. and Brazilian officers.

The extradition request filed Tuesday represents a rare try by the US to take custody of a Russian operative held abroad whereas Moscow is pursuing its personal effort to safe his launch.

The alleged spy, a Russian citizen named Sergey Cherkasov, is serving a 15-year jail sentence in Brazil for doc fraud associated to his pretend id. Russia has denied that Cherkasov is a undercover agent and as a substitute filed its personal extradition request accusing him of being a heroin trafficker — a declare that U.S. and Brazilian officers regard as a clear ruse.

Cherkasov, who’s initially from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, secretly worked for the nation’s navy intelligence service whereas fooling Western authorities, universities and establishments into believing that he was a Brazilian scholar named Victor Muller Ferreira, in keeping with a Justice Division indictment.

The U.S. extradition submitting comes amid escalating tensions over Russia’s latest arrest of a Wall Road Journal reporter, Evan Gershkovich, on fees of espionage that U.S. officers have denounced as false, and a few assert is an try by Moscow to stockpile Western hostages it may swap for Russians held abroad.

Officers in Brazil mentioned the U.S. request could be relayed to the nation’s Supreme Court docket, which ordinarily handles extradition issues, however Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva could also be compelled to intervene due to the sensitivity of the case.

He came to D.C. as a Brazilian student. The U.S. says he was a Russian spy.

A Justice Division spokesman declined to remark, saying “as a matter of coverage, the division usually doesn’t touch upon extradition-related issues.” Paulo Ferreira, an lawyer in Brazil who represents Cherkasov, mentioned that he couldn’t touch upon the case however that his consumer has conveyed to Brazilian authorities his want to be extradited to Russia.

Cherkasov, 38, was convicted of doc and id fraud fees stemming from his use of falsified information to create the fictional Ferreira persona.

Utilizing that id, Cherkasov gained admission to the elite worldwide research program at Johns Hopkins College in Washington. After graduating in 2020, he was supplied an internship on the Worldwide Prison Court docket in The Hague and was about to begin that place final yr when he was stopped at an airport by Dutch authorities — appearing on a tip from the FBI — and despatched again to Brazil.

His arrest is a part of a broader crackdown on Russian espionage networks within the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. European nations expelled at the least 400 Russian diplomats suspected of espionage after the beginning of the battle, a purge that has continued with extra expulsions in latest weeks in Sweden and Germany.

Cherkasov was allegedly a part of a smaller, extra specialised cadre of Russian “illegals,” which means spies who don’t function beneath diplomatic cowl out of Russian embassies however as a substitute typically spend years growing false identities designed to obscure any hyperlink to the Russian authorities. No less than six different illegals have been arrested or uncovered over the previous yr in nations together with Norway, Slovenia and Greece.

In wake of Ukraine war, U.S. and allies are hunting down Russian spies

Western officers say that the crackdown, as Russia wages a brutal battle in Ukraine, has prompted larger injury to Russian spy companies and networks than at any time because the finish of the Chilly Struggle.

The Cherkasov case additionally uncovered severe lapses in Russian tradecraft. Authorities who scoured his computer systems and different units had been capable of get better detailed information of his travels, places of “useless drops” used to relay messages, emails despatched to his Russian handlers and an error-strewn try to write down down his fictitious life story — a doc that officers say he used to memorize particulars of his assumed Ferreira persona.

Regardless of these and different missteps, Cherkasov’s true id was not uncovered by U.S. officers till after he arrived within the nation’s capital to start his research at Johns Hopkins, in keeping with officers aware of the matter.

Utilizing entry that he gained throughout his two years in Washington, Cherkasov filed studies to Russia’s navy intelligence service, the GRU, on points together with how the Biden administration would possibly reply to a Russian invasion of Ukraine, in keeping with the FBI indictment.

Citing analysts at assume tanks and different sources, Cherkasov predicted that the US would in the end do little to assist Ukraine — an evaluation that was in step with the erroneous forecasts of Russia’s intelligence companies main as much as the battle.

Russia’s covert operations have a major weakness: Hubris

The dueling extradition requests are extremely uncommon, and whether or not the US is more likely to prevail is tough to evaluate.

Brazil cooperated extensively with the FBI and CIA on the investigation of Cherkasov, in keeping with U.S. officers and Brazilian courtroom information. However Washington has additionally been annoyed by Brazil’s refusal to sentence the Ukraine invasion and its pleasant gestures towards Moscow, which included welcoming Russian International Minister Sergei Lavrov for a go to this month.

Russia’s personal extradition request faces different issues, together with that it fails to acknowledge seemingly apparent details about Cherkasov and his work for the GRU, in keeping with U.S. and Brazilian officers. As an alternative, Russia claims that Cherkasov was not a spy or a scholar, however a infamous drug trafficker who fled Russia to keep away from a prolonged jail sentence.

Brazil’s Supreme Court docket has indicated that it’ll not rule on any extradition request till the completion of an ongoing investigation of Cherkasov’s espionage actions in Brazil, officers mentioned.

Marina Dias in Brasília contributed to this report.

One yr of Russia’s battle in Ukraine

Portraits of Ukraine: Each Ukrainian’s life has modified since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one yr in the past — in methods each massive and small. They’ve realized to outlive and assist one another under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed condo complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.

Battle of attrition: Over the previous yr, the battle has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv within the north to a battle of attrition largely concentrated alongside an expanse of territory within the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.

A yr of residing aside: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial regulation stopping fighting-age males from leaving the nation, has compelled agonizing selections for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian households about how to balance safety, duty and love, with once-intertwined lives having grow to be unrecognizable. Right here’s what a train station full of goodbyes seemed like final yr.

Deepening international divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance solid in the course of the battle as a “international coalition,” however a better look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Proof abounds that the hassle to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, due to its oil and fuel exports.

Gaze week

Gaze week

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