Russian-Israeli relations are witnessing a new diplomatic crisis over the arrest of a Russian hacker four years ago. The United States is demanding that Israel hand him over for trial for violating American law and breaking into a number of sensitive American computers.
The Russian hacker, Aleksey Burkov, 29, from St. Petersburg, was working as an independent programming engineer.
“I’m an average man. I was dealing with cyber-security and programming, I worked with databases. I did have acquaintances among people complicit in hacking, but I myself didn’t commit those crimes – the Americans simply decided to blame all this on me,” Burkov told Russian media.
He said he was returning from a holiday with his girlfriend in Israel in 2015 when he found out that he was wanted by Interpol at the request of a US court on suspicion of hacking, stealing and leaking information, carrying out cyber-attacks on several official US accounts, and carrying out computer fraud. He was subsequently arrested without the Russian authorities being informed.
Burkov, who is in detention, found a way to communicate with the Russian consulate in Tel Aviv, crying out for help and explaining the “terrible conditions of his detention,” as he put it.
He said he had written four voluntary confessions listing the reasons for the Americans’ pursuit. He added: “Let the Russian court consider my case, if they find me guilty, I am ready for punishment.”
For nearly four years, Moscow has been demanding that the Israeli authorities extradite Burkov. The Russian demand was raised in several meetings with Israeli officials, including during President Vladimir Putin’s meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the Israeli authorities feared American outrage.
The Israeli Central Court decided to extradite Burkov to the United States and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. This court also ruled in favor of the extradition, but the decision has not yet been valid, because it needs the signature of the justice minister.
In order to put pressure on Israel, the airport authorities in Moscow arrested Israeli citizen, Naama Issachar, after finding nine grams of hashish with her. She has been in detention for four months. The Russians are hoping for a swap deal with Israel.