There seems to be an Americanskaya chistka, an American purge in Moscow. After January’s quiet expulsion of an alleged CIA agent, Benjamin Dillon, and this week’s rather less quiet PNGing of Ryan Fogle, comes news (broken in the NY Times) that Thomas Firestone, a former legal counsellor at the US Embassy who had moved into private practice in Moscow, was barred from returning to the city and sent back to the USA. Tom is, for my money, one of the sharpest–in every sense–critics of corruption in Russian business and the dark arts of reiderstvo, ‘raiding’ in particular. (The practice of stealing assets through falsified legal claims.) He spent two tours at the US Embassy as resident legal adviser, then joined the Moscow office of Baker & McKenzie as senior counsel. Not only was he given a certificate of merit in 2010 by Federal Anti-Monopoly Service chief Igor Artemyev “for his outstanding work in advancing U.S.-Russian cooperation in combating cartels and unfair competition,” he also wrote some of the seminal scholarly studies of reiderstvo, notably ‘Criminal Corporate Raiding in Russia‘ (2008).
Apparently, he was returning to Moscow on 5 May and was detained, held for 16 hours and then put on a flight to the USA. The news only seems to have broken today (Sunday 19 May). The story–so far–is that this follows efforts by the Federal Security Service to recruit him as an agent. Tom clearly enjoyed Moscow, with all its crass energy and sharp edges, but I confess I am astonished if the FSB really thought he was likely to be open to recruitment. Honestly I’d see it as much more likely that, as a perennial thorn in the side of corrupt officials and ‘raiders’ alike, certain interests finally decided they wanted him out of their city and out of their hair. No doubt we’ll get a better sense of the picture over time.
Meanwhile, though, although this predates the Fogle case, when put together it does begin to paint a worrying picture of increasing xenophobia in Moscow. Even if there is no connection between the Firestone case and those of Dillon and Fogle, a willingness to exclude a specialist in Russian and international law and an avowed enemy of the very “legal nihilism” the government is meant to be opposing offers no encouragement. Instead, it almost begins to look as if the Kremlin’s is beginning to believe its current propaganda campaign about its encirclement by foreign foes.