YEREVAN (Reuters) - Russia called a Thai court ruling on Friday to extradite suspected Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout to the United States “unlawful” and promised to seek his release.
“We regret this ... unlawful, political decision,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a visit to Armenia.
In wording that suggested Russia suspects the United States exerted undue influence to secure the ruling, Lavrov said Moscow had information it was made “under very strong external pressure.”
“I assure you we will continue to do everything necessary to secure his return to his homeland,” Lavrov said of Bout.
A Thai appeals court ruled to extradite Bout to the United States to face terrorism charges. He faces U.S. accusations of trafficking arms since the 1990s to dictators and conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.
A Russian citizen, Bout has been held in a maximum-security Thai prison since his arrest in March 2008 — shortly after arriving from Moscow — in a U.S.-Thai sting operation in which agents posed as Colombian rebel arms buyers.
Russian authorities seemingly allowed Bout free rein for years and made no apparent attempt to interfere with his operations, angering Washington and prompting speculation that he had protection from the state.
The ruling is a blow to Russia, still struggling with the United States for geopolitical influence despite warming ties.
Russia, which accuses the United States of failing to practice what it preaches to others on issues including arms sales and human rights, had praised a lower court’s ruling against extradition.
State-run Russian television news reports on Friday’s ruling focused on remarks from Bout’s tearful wife, Alla, about U.S. pressure.
Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Writing by Steve Gutterman