The decision by Switzerland's Supreme Court to extradite former Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov to his homeland to be tried for embezzlement and abuse of office -- rather than to the United States, where he has also been indicted on fraud charges -- was widely viewed by analysts as a diplomatic victory for Moscow and a surprising setback for Washington.
The ruling, announced yesterday, put an end to eight months of legal wrangling, finger-pointing and Cold War-style political posturing that began when Adamov was arrested in Bern on 2 May 2005.
"We are satisfied with the decision of Switzerland's federal court," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in remarks reported by Interfax.
Likewise, an unidentified official at the Russian Atomic Energy Agency told gazeta.ru: "We welcome this decision; it is in accordance with international law."
The official added: "How dangerous it would have been for him to be in the United States is difficult to say. Adamov himself was afraid of pressure from the American authorities."
Russia -- fearing that Adamov would be pressured into divulging Moscow's nuclear secrets to the U.S. -- indicted him on charges of embezzling $17 million in Russian state funds.
In a statement released yesterday, the U.S. State Department said: "The United States is disappointed by the Swiss Supreme Court decision to extradite Mr. Yevgenii Adamov to Russia."
Swiss authorities arrested Adamov on the request of the United States, where he was indicted for allegedly diverting up to $9 million in American taxpayer funds earmarked to improve Russian nuclear safety into personal projects in the U.S., Ukraine, and Russia.
The "Washington Post" reports the alleged crime took place in the 1990s, when Adamov was heading of a nuclear research institute that received U.S. funding.
Russia -- which feared that once in American hands, Adamov would be pressured into divulging Moscow's nuclear secrets -- had also indicted him on charges of embezzling $17 million in Russian state funds when he was serving as Atomic Energy minister between 1998-2001. Moscow filed an extradition request with Swiss authorities.
In October, the Swiss Justice Ministry ruled that Adamov be extradited to the United States. Moscow called the move unjust and warned that following through with the decision would harm bilateral ties.
The Swiss Supreme Court ruling, which was handed down on 22 December but only made public a week later, reversed the Justice Ministry decision. The ruling cannot be appealed, Swiss officials said.
Stefan Wehrenberg, Adamov's Swiss lawyer, said Adamov now had to be extradited to Russia within 15 days, Reuters reported.
"For Russia, this is an important diplomatic victory," Vladimir A. Orlov, director of the Moscow-based PIR Center for Policy Studies, told the "Los Angeles Times."
"He could have been sent to the U.S. and justice would have been served there. But in terms of image, this would have been a blow to Russia." A Corruption Case With Cold War Undertones
From the time Adamov was detained in May, Russian politicians protested that Washington's actions were politically motivated.
Adamov himself, in an interview earlier this year on the radio station Ekho Moskvy, fueled fears that Russian national security could be compromised if he was extradited to the United States.
''If I spend even one night in a U.S. jail, there will be problems with state secrets," said Adamov, who himself requested to be extradited to Russia.
Following the decision to extradite Adamov to the United States, Aleksei Mitrofanov, a State Duma deputy from the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, suggested that Moscow should consider "detaining an American on our territory" in retaliation.
The Cold War undertones reached a near-comic level earlier this month when the prominent anti-Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovskii suggested that Washington should consider "swapping" Adamov for the jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and his business partner Platon Lebedev.
In spite of the determination to see Adamov returned home, however, top Russian officials appeared to disagree over whether the former atomic energy official in fact possessed any valuable state secrets.
In October, ITAR-TASS quoted Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying that Adamov posed no threat to national security.
But Aleksandr Rumyantsev, who succeeded Adamov as the director of Russia's Atomic Energy Agency before being replaced in November, told Ekho Moskvy radio that "to be atomic energy minister means to know secrets."
The United States denies being interested in any secrets Adamov may or may not possess, and insists the case is nothing more than a criminal matter.
"Adamov has been indicted in the United States for the diversion for his own personal use of U.S. taxpayer funds intended to help the Russian government improve the safety of its nuclear energy facilities," the U.S. State Department said in its 29 December statement.
Adamov says he would like to clear his name in an American court as well -- but only with Russia's approval, and with guarantees that he won't be pressured into revealing state secrets.
"We look to the Government of Russia to ensure that justice is done in this case," the statement continued.
In making its decision to extradite Adamov to Russia, the Swiss court took into consideration his citizenship, the fact that both of the alleged crimes took place in Russia, and the dates the respective extradition requests were sent, Reuters reported. Russian authorities sent their extradition request in May, while the American request arrived in late June.
Adamov said on 30 December that after defending himself in a Russian court, he would like to clear his name in an American court as well -- but only with Russia's approval, and with guarantees that he won't be pressured into revealing state secrets.
"As soon as I return to Russia, I shall use my right to appear in a U.S. court as a free person in order to prove my innocence," Adamov said in a statement quoted by RIA-Novosti.
"I am sure that the Russian and U.S. authorities will reach an agreement and resolve this issue in a positive way if U.S. secret services are banned from contacting me during my stay in the United States," he added. "I am ready to do everything to face a U.S. court and clear my name of false accusations brought against me by the U.S. government."
Adamov does not deny that he put the U.S. money into his private accounts, but says he did so to shield it from inflation, an unstable banking system and widespread corruption.
Russian prosecutors have also pledged to investigate the U.S. charges, the "Washington Post" reported. Swiss Put In A Tight Spot
The Adamov case put the Swiss in the difficult position of having to offend either the Americans or the Russians. It also came at a time when relations with Moscow were strained over other issues.
In October, a Swiss court sentenced Russian citizen Vitalii Kaloev to eight years in prison in Switzerland after he was found guilty of murdering air-traffic controller Peter Nielsen in a Zurich suburb. Nielsen was on duty when a flight carrying 50 Russian schoolchildren collided with a DHL cargo jet.
Kaloev's wife, son, and daughter died in the crash. Moscow considered the sentence excessively harsh, and has sought to have Kaloev returned to Russia to serve his sentence there.
In November, Swiss customs officials impounded 54 paintings belonging to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The paintings were seized on behalf of the Swiss trading firm Noga, which claims that Russia owes it approximately $800 million in unpaid debts.
"The [Adamov] situation left Switzerland in the awkward position of having to offend either the superpower or a close neighbor with whom relations were already tense," the Swiss news website swissinfo.org opined in an article on 29 December.
"Thursday's decision was a slap in the face for the [Swiss] justice authorities, and won't please the U.S. But it does enable Switzerland to extricate itself from a politically difficult situation, since it is the court, and not the government, which has the final word on the matter," swissinfo.org wrote. .