Will Russians indicted by special counsel face extradition? Don't hold your breath

Russia has historically resisted the extradition process to the U.S.

Russia has a history of resisting U.S. efforts to extradite Russian citizens, even in cases where they are not suspected to have been operating at the Kremlin’s behest.

The indictments on Friday by the Department of Justice came in connection with the Russian citizens' role in a conspiracy to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election using a well-funded campaign on social media and phony news sites.

On Monday, the Kremlin signaled it had no intention to investigate those named in the indictment. Putin’s spokesman denied Russia had meddled in the election and said Mueller had failed to provide sufficient evidence.

“They are talking about Russian citizens, but we have not heard in announcements from Washington accusations about the involvement of the Russian state, the Kremlin and the Russian government,” the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted as saying in a briefing call by Reuters. "This evidence has no grounds and we don’t consider it overwhelming, we don’t regard it as fair and cannot agree with it."

In any case, Russia has long been one of the countries where extradition has been most difficult for the United States. Russia has no extradition treaty with the U.S. and the country’s constitution forbids any extradition of its citizens to stand trial abroad. Russia has also recently been increasingly active in seeking to block U.S. extraditions of Russians seized abroad.

The increased arrests led Russia’s foreign ministry this year to accuse the U.S. of “hunting” for Russians, issuing a travel warning cautioning its citizens that they may be seized abroad.

Around the cases a pattern has emerged, with Russia swiftly countering U.S. extradition requests with its own, often based on older and more minor charges.

One such battle has emerged around an alleged Russian hacker who was seized in Prague in late 2016 on U.S. charges that he carried out huge password thefts against the U.S. technology companies Linkedin and Dropbox. After Czech police seized the man, Evgeny Nikulin, Russia quickly filed its own extradition request on a minor charge of internet theft from 2009. Experts have suggested that the case, which is being carried out under unusual security, may be indicative of Russia trying to get Nikulin back before he could be questioned in the U.S.

Similar cases appeared in Greece and Spain. This month, Russian programmer Peter Levashov was extradited to the U.S. from Spain to face cybercrime charges, after an unsuccessful Russian effort to return him.

Andrey Soldatov, a leading expert on Russian cyber espionage, told ABC News last year that he believed these cases and the increased tempo of arrests of suspected Russian hackers might reflect an effort by U.S. law enforcement to build up its understanding of the Russian cyber underworld following the election meddling. Russian intelligence services have been found to sometimes co-opt criminal hackers for their own operations.

"It looks like the cases are actually starting points for the investigation of who are the real players in the Russian cyber underworld,” said Andrey Soldatov, an authority on cyber operations by the FSB, Russia's version of the FBI, and author of a book on the subject, "The Red Web."

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