It was just what U.S. officials feared would happen: A Russian businessman accused of illegally obtaining U.S. military technology that later ended up on the battlefield in Ukraine escaped house arrest after Italy granted the U.S.' extradition request.
Artem Uss surfaced in March, telling a Russian state-owned news agency, "I am in Russia! In these few especially dramatic days, strong and reliable people were next to me."
John Carlin, the former assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's national security division, tells Scripps News the U.S. had warned against house arrest.
"We've seen this happen before in Italy, and that was raised in this case as a reason why the conditions of confinement were not sufficient. And so it is really unfortunate that we've seen it happen again," Carlin said.
Uss had been detained at Milan Malpensa Airport in October, at the U.S.' request — but Uss is no ordinary Russian. Vladimir Putin appointed his father, Alexander Uss, as acting governor for Krasnoyarsk, an oil-rich region of Siberia in 2017, before he was elected to the role. He also served on the board of Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.
And in a video on Telegram, he thanked people who helped his son flee — including Putin.
"Separate words of gratitude to our President. He is not just the head of our state, but he is a man with a big and open heart," said Alexander Uss.
The U.S. government alleges that Uss illicitly obtained semiconductors, microprocessors, and other military technology that are used in fighter aircraft and missile systems. They also accuse him of smuggling sanctioned Venezuelan oil to major Russian and Chinese purchasers.
Uss has denied wrongdoing.
Italy is still investigating the details of his escape. Italian media report multiple cars and accomplices participated, possibly with the assistance of Russian security services.
"It seems quite obvious that this, that the Russians were not only involved but were directing this activity. And it's so consistent with prior Russian activity," Carlin said.
According to the Wall Street Journal, members of a Serbian criminal gang were involved. Carlin says that is to be expected. "There have been close and documented ties between Russia, Russian intelligence and Serbian organized crime. So it would not be surprising. In fact it would be consistent with the way Russia operates, and it would leverage Russian organized criminal assets in order to achieve the aims of the state."
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