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Russia Frees Israeli-American Citizen

Michael Johnson

Russian President Vladimir Putin commuted the prison sentence of Israeli-American Naama Issachar on Wednesday, allowing her to leave Moscow. The 27-year-old woman had been a pawn in a diplomatic row between Moscow, Jerusalem, and Washington amid the pending extradition of a suspected Russian hacker held in the Jewish State. 

Russian authorities arrested Issachar last April during a stopover at the Moscow airport as she traveled from India back home to Israel. A court sentenced her to 7.5 years in prison for carrying less than a third of an ounce of cannabis in her luggage. 

Moscow used Ms. Issachar’s imprisonment as leverage to free Alexei Burkov. Mr. Burkov, a Russian national detained in Israeli in 2015 at the request of U.S. authorities, had sold 150,000 hacked credit card numbers online at the cost of $20 million in fraudulent transactions. 

After her arrest, Issachar’s sister began to receive communications from a man claiming connections with Mr. Burkov would send messages such as, “When are you going to stop being so naive – your sister is being held as a trade for my friend.” Lawyers for the Issachar family even filed petitions with Israel’s Supreme court to block Mr. Burkov’s extradition to help the chances of Ms. Issachar’s release. 

One U.S. official characterized the Kremin’s use of such punitive detentions, and in other cases bribery, to free its citizens accused of cybercrime abroad as Soviet-era coercion. 

In November, after exhausting his appeals, the Israeli Justice ministery extradited Mr. Burkov to the U.S. With the return of Mr. Burkov now out of reach and continued diplomatic pressure from Jerusalem, it remained up to the Kremlin to decide on Ms. Issachar’s release.

Last week, President Putin met Ms. Issachar’s mother and other family members during his visit to Jerusalem to commemorate the Liberation of Auschwitz. Then in the course of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow this week, the Kremlin release Ms. Issachar to fly back to Israel with the Prime Minister.

Additionally, some analysts contend that Israel’s freeing of two Syrian citizens as a diplomatic goodwill gesture and the recent initiative to return a disputed building complex in Jerusalem’s Old City, known as Alexander Courtyard, contributed to Ms. Issachar’s release.