Federal Law Enforcement
Foreign Actors in U.S. Courts: Beginning an Important Conversation
The question of Russian interference in the American political system is not going away. Even as the various investigations of Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election wind down, concerns about the security of the 2020 election abound. Alongside these concerns, another question has started to mature, mostly in legal circles for now: the question of Russian exploitation of the American and international legal systems.
The highest profile example of this new area of concern is the recent spotlight that has been cast on Russia’s use of Interpol’s “red notices,” which, in Interpol’s own words, are “are international requests for cooperation or alerts allowing police in member countries to share critical crime-related information.”
The problem arises when arrest warrants, and subsequently red notices, are issued maliciously and in bad faith to go after people for political reasons.
But the issue is broader than just Interpol. In recent months, analysts have begun asking not simply if Russia is using this one tool in a way other than as intended but whether Russia is engaged in abuse more broadly of the judiciary systems of the U.S. and other democratic countries.
The most prominent articulation of this view came in a report issued by the Atlantic Council’s Anders Åslund back in July 2018 and provocatively entitled “Russia’s Interference in the US Judiciary.” The title appears to be a self-conscious effort to evoke Russia’s electoral interference and to situate the discussion in those terms. Åslund argues that “the Kremlin has exploited the US judicial system to advance the Russian state’s corrupt corporate raiding and expropriation schemes.” In particular, Åslund focuses on Russian use of three areas of law—28 U.S.C. § 1782 applications for international discovery, a provision of the international bankruptcy code (11 U.S.C. §§ 1501–1532), and the enforcement of foreign money judgments under common law principles of comity. Russian exploitation of these provisions, he argues, reflects Russian government “abuse” of the American judiciary. He argues that “[t]he Kremlin has weaponized elements of the US judicial system and process to further its own ambitions.”
More recently, the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TTCCC) hosted a conference on the topic at George Mason University, at which one of us spoke. The conference, while chiefly about Interpol, addressed the larger issue of Russian abuse of the legal system as well.
The policy questions here are very real. What Russia is doing in the cases at issue is disturbing, and it raises important questions as to how deferential the U.S. legal system should be to claims of comity from the legal systems of countries that do not have functioning rule-of-law institutions.
That said, the vocabulary of “abuse” is—at least in some instances—a bit mischievous. With a few notable exceptions, which we will address below, the cases at issue here are ones in which Russian entities are aggressively asserting their rights under U.S. laws that specifically do not discriminate against nondemocratic legal systems. Unlike the questions of electoral interference, which involve illegal (under U.S. law) cheating, these cases implicate the difficult policy question of how open the United States wants to make its judiciary to honoring and enforcing foreign judgments from judicial systems whose values we do not admire. The Russian entities in question are behaving exactly as one would expect them to under the law, and to the extent they are ultimately Kremlin controlled, the Kremlin is doing so too. That said, Russia here is in many instances availing itself of a hospitable U.S. legal environment for purposes that are manifestly inconsistent with U.S. policy. It also does not offer U.S. litigants reciprocal solicitude in its own courts, which shield the very actors who sometimes get unduly credulous treatment from the American judiciary. In other words, at least in some of these cases, the question is less whether Russia is behaving itself than whether the United States wants its laws subject to exploitation by adversary nations.
When legal regimes interact with one another, the interplay at the seams is always complicated. That’s hard enough when the two legal systems are both rule-of-law oriented, indeed even when the two legal systems are close. Think only of how hard it was to resolve the cross-border data transfer issues between the United States and the United Kingdom. Such difficulties are dramatically harder when the two regimes have radically different values.
But the problem is also unavoidable. If there will be trade and commerce between two countries, their legal systems have to interact. Otherwise, what happens when, say, a Russian entity sues and seeks discovery against another Russian entity or person who happens to be in the United States? Or what happens when a Russian company declares bankruptcy but has a lot of assets in New York real estate?
To put it more succinctly, if one takes a robust view of comity between judicial systems, one makes one’s own legal system vulnerable to asymmetric litigation warfare—as one risks putting one’s courts at the service of the authoritarian country’s government in its pursuit overseas of dissidents and others who have run afoul of power. At the same time, protect against this, and one risks adding a lot of friction to international judicial cooperation.
In certain areas, it is definitely fair to call Russia’s activity in foreign courts abuse. The most obvious instance of abuse is the Russian government’s improper use of Interpol notices to pursue human rights campaigner Bill Browder.
As Amy Mackinnon explains in Foreign Policy, allegations abound that Russia manipulates the system by malevolently “issu[ing] Red Notices through the Interpol system in pursuit of its political enemies abroad.” Browder recently appeared on the Lawfare Podcast to discuss his story, along with Jago Russell, the head of Fair Trials, which has worked to reform Interpol and make it less susceptible to abuse.
Another example of simple abuse is the recent indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer made famous for her role in the infamous Trump Tower meeting, for obstruction of justice. Following Browder’s report of what had occurred in Russia, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York (SDNY) pursued Russian-owned Prevezon Holdings, alleging that “Prevezon helped launder the proceeds from the scam involving Browder’s companies.” Veselnitskaya was hired to fight back.
The Russia government sent to the U.S. a document containing “investigative findings,” which “purported to exonerate all Russian government personnel” and shift the blame for the embezzlement back to Browder. Despite signing an affidavit under penalty of perjury that she had no role in drafting the document, Veselnitskaya allegedly “participated in drafting those supposed exculpatory investigative findings in secret cooperation with a senior Russian prosecutor.” The SDNY indicted her on obstruction of justice charges accordingly.
In other areas, however, Russian exploitation of the American legal system to go after those who have run afoul of the Putin regime seems to fall solidly within the four corners of what U.S. law contemplates. It’s thus a little too easy to dismiss it as “abuse.” Instead, it raises the serious policy question of whether we want American law to be as deferential as it is to the potentially corrupt activity of foreign legal systems.
Consider three examples from the Atlantic Council report:
This provision of the U.S. Code, entitled “Assistance to foreign and international tribunals and to litigants before such tribunals,” is, in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s words in Intel v. Advanced Micro Devices, “the product of congressional efforts, over the span of nearly 150 years, to provide federal-court assistance in gathering evidence for use in foreign tribunals.” The law permits litigants in foreign litigation proceedings to request a U.S. court’s assistance in securing domestic evidence for use in said foreign proceedings.
The Supreme Court has held that the statute authorizes, but does not mandate, discovery assistance decided at the discretion of the district court. The requesting party need only show that it is an “interested person” in the suit, that the suit is before a “tribunal,” and that the person from whom the evidence is requested resides in the federal district in which the application was filed. The Supreme Court instructed district courts to review four discretionary factors when considering granting § 1782 applications: (1) whether the individual named in the application can be compelled to provide discovery in the foreign proceeding; (2) whether the foreign nation is receptive to U.S. discovery; (3) whether the application is pretextual or filed to circumvent the U.S.’s or the foreign country’s law or policy; and (4) whether the discovery requests are unduly burdensome.
The Atlantic Council report points to three instances in which the Russian government abused § 1782 applications to go after foreign dissidents: first, the bankrupting of Yukos Oil by Promnefstroy, a state-owned Russian oil company; second, Russian state-owned Federal Treasury Enterprise’s infringement of intellectual property owned by SPI Group (the beverage company most famous for Stolichnaya vodka); and third, as noted in the Atlantic, “the Central Bank of Russia[’s] revok[ing] the operating license of the privately owned Probusinessbank, seiz[ing] its assets, and forc[ing] it into bankruptcy.” In all of these cases, in the Atlantic Council report’s estimation, the statute was used as part of the Kremlin’s efforts “to harass and further extort assets from” dissidents and other political rivals.
In the Yukos case, Yukos Oil came under tax scrutiny and was pushed by banks into bankruptcy. The Russian court appointed a receiver, who then pushed out two directors who oversaw two Dutch subsidiaries and, four days later, sold the subsidiaries to Russian state-owned enterprises. Litigation ensued in Dutch courts.
First, the now-former directors sought “a declaratory judgment that shareholder actions taken by [the] receiver [and newly] appointed directors were ... null and void.” As part of that litigation, Promnefstroy filed a § 1782 application for “forty-one paragraphs of document requests in addition to a request for the deposition testimony of” Daniel Feldman, the corporate secretary of Yukos Oil in 2003 and thereafter secretary of the board of directors in 2004. Because many of the documents were within the reach of the Dutch tribunal and said tribunal had already rebuffed multiple efforts to obtain it, then-District Judge Richard Sullivan (since elevated by President Trump to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals) ruled against the § 1782 application.
In a separate cause of action, the receiver and Promnefstroy “allege[d] that the defendants were engaged in the improper distribution of Yukos Oil’s assets. It claim[ed] they ignored their debtor obligations and improperly distributed approximately $250 million to GML and that the directors of Foundation II withheld 10 percent of that distribution for their own personal profit.” The plaintiffs sought to depose Eric Wolf, an individual who allegedly “ha[d] unique and direct personal knowledge of the circumstances and agreements surrounding the contested
distribution of funds.”
Ultimately, Wolf, an Israeli who was living in exile from Russia for a time, was ordered to be deposed by the SDNY. The Atlantic Council report writes that:
The US court was given another opportunity to analyze the underlying illegal expropriation of Yukos’s assets by the Russian government, which by this time was substantiated by the Hague tribunal’s ruling and highlighted by Wolf in his filings to the court. However, because there were no technical grounds for dismissal, the court was not swayed by the evidence of rampant corruption by the Russian Federation and PNS’s affiliates.
Put differently, the Atlantic Council seemed to regard Wolf’s deposition as a missed opportunity to bring to bear corrupt intent and penalize litigants who may not have been arguing in good faith.
Federal Treasury Enterprise (FTE)
Years ago, VVO Sojuzplodoimport was a state-owned production company best known for its manufacturing of Stolichnaya liquors. Privatized in 1992, the company became SPI and maintained the trademarks.
In 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order authorizing, in roughly translated English, “measures directed to restoration and protection of the rights of the state concerning intellectual property in the sphere of production and turnover of vodka products, and also for detection and bringing to account of the persons involved in violation of these rights. Report on the results monthly[.]” Subsequently, FTE was created to effectuate that aim. The Russian Federation then transferred the U.S. trademarks to Stolichnaya, the famous liquor brand, to FTE, and sued SPI in the SDNY for trademark infringement, asserting it owned the exclusive trademark.
After multiple procedural disputes, the discovery dispute ensued. Ultimately, FTE proposed a voluntary disclosure mechanism for relevant documents from 27 identified Russian government agencies, which the court accepted over SPI’s objection. However, following FTE’s lack of cooperation—after a year, only 3,400 pages had been produced—the special master appointed in the case by the SDNY granted SPI’s motion to stay discovery until FTE complied substantially with the discovery requests.
Deposit Insurance Agency & Probusinessbank
The Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA) is a Russian government bankruptcy receiver that issued a subpoena under § 1782 to “Sergey Leontiev, the founder and former president of Probusinessbank, a failed Russian commercial bank.” The parties’ main arguments, as summarized by SDNY Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn, are as follows:
Leontiev maintains that elements within the Russian government forced Probusinessbank into bankruptcy in an effort to expropriate the bank’s assets and to punish him for his political independence. The DIA, on the other hand, argues that Leontiev drove the bank to insolvency through off balance sheet lending and other fraudulent transactions.
DIA sought 19 unique documents requests, including:
documents showing the ownership, management, and transfers of funds into and from approximately 70 different companies; documents related to loans and transfers to certain of these companies, including communications with Alexander Zheleznyak (another Probusinessbank executive); documents showing the participation of Zheleznyak or any of 49 other individuals in an alleged embezzlement scheme; documents related to Probusinessbank loans that were purportedly funneled to Leontiev and Zheleznyak; all documents produced in two other actions[.]
Ultimately, because of substantial factual allegations in the motion to quash the subpoena, the parties were ordered to meet and confer without a decision on the merits. Thereafter, the parties came to a discovery agreement to limit the scope of the subpoena. The Atlantic Council report was published prior to either of these developments.
In two of the three cases, the district courts in question followed precedent and considered the discretionary factors. (This was not the case in the FTE-SPI dispute the Atlantic Council report covered, as the dispute was under a domestic trademark infringement suit rather than a § 1782 application, notwithstanding the report’s classification.)
In some instances, the third discretionary factor was not a genuine review of whether the actions were pretextual to advance a Russian government’s interest; instead, it focused on whether they were undertaken to bypass other discovery law. So the complaint seems to be that the courts are not considering adequately whether the party or sovereign that stands to benefit—in this case, Russia—from the discovery is corrupt and, if so, automatically denying the applications.
But as the DIA case shows, even under existing law, the courts are not wholly without power to consider this question. In that case, Judge Netburn reviewed Leontiev’s claim that “DIA’s version of events surrounding the Probusinessbank bankruptcy lacks evidentiary support beyond self-serving affidavits submitted by its Russian attorneys or the DIA bankruptcy administrator” and reviewed the evidence buttressing this claim. Having done so, Netburn ruled:
The Court, however, is not blind to Leontiev’s claims that the discovery sought here is intended for other proceedings or impermissible purposes. Leontiev has marshalled substantial evidence to support this view, which is rebutted by the DIA largely with inconsistent statements or hearsay declarations. Moreover, the Court’s concern about the legitimacy of these requests is heightened by the involvement of two sanctioned individuals. Accordingly, the parties are ORDERED to meet and confer to modify the scope of the subpoena to reduce the burden on Leontiev and to narrow its focus to only those topics relevant to the Probusinessbank bankruptcy proceeding, including discovery related to any alleged “Conspirators.”
In other words, the courts may consider—and indeed have considered—at least to some extent, the very factor the Atlantic Council report seeks to have them consider.
Moreover, there is a legitimate statutory objection to be made against Åslund’s suggestion on this point: In the words of Justice Scalia’s Intel concurrence, requiring courts to look at the underlying beneficiaries of the application and potential corrupt motives thereof “finds [no] support in the categorical language of 28 U.S.C. § 1782[.]” Instead, as the Intel majority opinion states, “[A] district court could consider” such nefarious context but is under no affirmative obligation to do so (emphasis added).
But that, in turn, only raises the question of whether the statute should give district judges a little more guidance than they currently have to look into the likely integrity of the foreign litigation they are being asked to facilitate—and perhaps a little more latitude to reject discovery requests that are, as Judge Netburn put it, “intended for ... impermissible purposes.” One could imagine that a modest change in the law mandating such a review would provide a great deal more protection against this sort of manipulation.
- Bankruptcy Code, Chapter 15
The Atlantic Council report similarly flags Chapter 15 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code as an area of concern: “Chapter 15 of the US Bankruptcy Code allows a representative of a foreign insolvency proceeding to bring an ancillary action in the United States.” As the U.S. federal courts’ website reads: “Chapter 15 is a new chapter added to the Bankruptcy Code by the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005.” The website also makes clear that it “is the U.S. domestic adoption of the Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency promulgated by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law [and] replaces section 304 of the Bankruptcy Code.” In essence, the statute enables a representative of a foreign insolvency proceeding to bring a secondary or ancillary proceeding in the United States adjacent to, if not in support of, the foreign action.
These proceedings work as follows: [F]irst, an ancillary case is commenced when the foreign representative petitions for recognition under 11 U.S.C. § 1504. And, as the federal courts’ website explains, § 1515 demands “[t]he petition ... be accompanied by documents showing the existence of the foreign proceeding and the appointment and authority of the foreign representative.” Once the petition for recognition is filed, the court may issue preliminary relief. But after the petition is itself recognized:
a foreign representative may seek additional relief from the bankruptcy court or from other state and federal courts and is authorized to bring a full (as opposed to ancillary) bankruptcy case. In addition, the representative is authorized to participate as a party of interest in a pending U.S. insolvency case and to intervene in any other U.S. case where the debtor is a party. [Citations omitted.]
Finally, because the section’s goal is to promote international assistance in increasingly international bankruptcy matters, the statute charges the courts to “cooperate to the maximum extent possible,” particularly in the form of increased communications about developments in parallel proceedings.
There is undoubtedly merit to the Atlantic Council’s assertion that such Chapter 15 actions:
can easily be abused, as the requirements for initiating a Chapter 15 case are minimal, US jurisdiction can be established easily and gerrymandered, and recognition of a foreign proceeding by the US bankruptcy court is mandatory once the minimal statutory requirements are met. Once a foreign proceeding has been recognized under Chapter 15, the foreign representative can conduct wide-ranging discovery concerning the property and affairs of the debtor. [Footnotes omitted.]
Similarly, it is true that the authorizing statute for Chapter 15 includes an exception clause of the very type lacking in § 1782: the “public policy exception.” 11 U.S.C. § 1506 reads: “Nothing in this chapter prevents the court from refusing to take an action governed by this chapter if the action would be manifestly contrary to the public policy of the United States.”
As evidence of abuse of this section, Åslund cites only one example: the case of Sergey Poymanov, the majority shareholder of OJSC Pavlovskgranit (OJSC), a mineral and mining company. According to the report, after the 2008 global financial crisis, the company was unable to repay its loan to a Russian-government-owned bank, Sberbank. Sberbank allegedly offered to refinance OJSC’s loan if and only if 50 percent of the company was transferred to a Sberbank affiliate for a “nominal fee”:
As a result, Sberbank accelerated the loan and obtained a Russian court judgment for the entire amount outstanding under the loan. The creditor then obtained from an appraiser, partially owned by the son of the local Sberbank manager ...[,] an artificially low valuation of [OJSC], which enabled a Sberbank affiliate to acquire over 50 percent of [the company’s] shares.
The following year, Poymanov sued Sberbank and other related entities in the SDNY for damages arising out of its extortive restructuring offer that set off the bankruptcy waterfall, while the Russian bankruptcy receiver in the case filed a Chapter 15 action in the same district. Former SDNY district court nominee and current SDNY Bankruptcy Judge Mary Kay Voscil stated, “[I]f I accept [the premise that Russian corruption is rampant], doesn’t that mean that the courts here should never grant recognition to a Russian proceeding because we don’t know whether this corporate rating infects the proceedings?” She then “issued an order recognizing the Russian bankruptcy proceeding, and later stayed [Poymanov’s] lawsuit.”
Åslund’s frustrations are to the point:
The court’s analysis in Poymanov exemplifies the American judiciary’s hesitancy to recognize the endemic corruption of Russia’s courts and illustrates that the Russian legal system plays an essential role in the Kremlin orchestrated expropriation of private assets both for state and private gain.
But the implication that a lone bankruptcy court judge should evaluate an entire country’s judicial system in the context of a bankruptcy proceeding is faintly absurd and puts that judge in an impossible position: Either she permits the lawsuit and faces criticism for being overly deferential to foreign tyrannies (as happened here), or she makes a broad pronouncement about an entire judicial system—an act that goes far beyond the matter of bankruptcy and that bears quite heavily on foreign relations. It is also not entirely clear how common this problem is. A lone injustice in a single case does not, after all, constitute a general public policy problem. By contrast, a broad pattern of abuses of the bankruptcy courts by Russia and other authoritarian actors would argue strongly for additional congressional guidance to bankruptcy courts as to how to handle potentially abusive foreign bankruptcies targeting political opponents of authoritarian regimes. It is important to understand here how Russia’s activity in this case fits in to the broader pattern of use of this provision by other nondemocratic governments.
Enforcement of Foreign Money Judgments
The Supreme Court has long held that:
[w]here there has been opportunity for a full and fair trial before a foreign court of competent jurisdiction, conducting the trial on regular proceedings, after due citation of voluntary appearance of the defendant, and under a system of jurisprudence likely to secure an impartial administration of justice ... and there is nothing to show either prejudice in the court, or in the system of laws under which it was sitting, or fraud in procuring the judgment, ... the merits of the case should not ... be tried afresh, as on a new trial or an appeal[.]
In other words, unless there is legitimate reason to suspect that a judgment was ill gotten, courts, by way of the principles of comity, ought to enforce it.
Åslund’s principal argument on this point is that judgments benefiting Russian oligarchs and pursued at the behest of the Kremlin are the result of corrupt Russian courts and thus should not be upheld. In support, the Atlantic Council cites the Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law, § 482, which states that a court “may not” recognize a judgment if it was rendered by a system that does not comport with basic due process and that a court “need not” enforce a judgment if, among other reasons, the “judgment was obtained by fraud” or “the cause of action on which the judgment was based, or the judgment itself, is repugnant to the public policy of the United States or of the State where recognition is sought.”
Åslund here points to two examples: Sberbank and Stepanchenko.
In the former case, Sberbank issued three loans to Sealand and asserted that a board member, Yuri Traisman, had personally guaranteed the loans. Sberbank sued for damages, but Traisman asserted that he had made no guarantee, saying that his signatures had been forged. Despite substantial evidence to this effect, Traisman’s health prevented him from appearing in court when ordered to settle the dispute, and the Moscow district court concluded that he was evading the hearing and decided the case in Sberbank’s favor. Notwithstanding some significantly troubling pieces of evidence buttressing Traisman’s claim, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut found the Russian judgment to have preclusive effect in ruling that Traisman had guaranteed the loans, therefore enforcing the judgment.
Stepanchenko, by contrast, was a senator and a real estate developer who, according to the Atlantic Council report, was alleged to have committed fraud and laundered money. Following the allegations, Stepanchenko fled Russia and settled in the United States. However, another Russian official “ensured that Stepanchenko’s six-year-old daughter could not leave Russia. He threatened Stepanchenko and demanded that Stepanchenko transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to him.” Russia thereafter issued an Interpol red notice for Stepanchenko, but after Interpol investigated him, it removed Stepanchenko from its detainment list. Not to be deterred, the Russian government sought and obtained from “a Russian court ... five restraining orders for assets belonging to Stepanchenko and his wife,” including “three corporate banking accounts, one investment account in Mrs. Stepanchenko’s name, and two automobiles.” Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2467(b)(2), the assistant attorney general issued the restraining orders. The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, or CAFRA, “grants federal district courts jurisdiction to enforce ‘foreign forfeiture or confiscation judgment[s]’ and to ‘enter such orders as may be necessary to enforce the judgment on behalf of the foreign nation.’” Ultimately, because the Russian government failed to enter a final foreign order “in connection to the property, parties, or offenses at issue in this case,” the SDNY dissolved the order. Despite the result, Åslund argues that because Stepanchenko’s savior was ultimately a procedural technicality rather than the substantive argument of corrupt intent, this incident remains a data point that “US courts continue to take Russian judgments seriously, even when presented with evidence of due process violations and political persecution employed by Russian actors.”
Unfortunately, Åslund’s hopes are likely misplaced without statutory amendment. The problem is a lacking limiting principle. To be sure, not all judicial systems function alike, but most indeed exhibit the basic features of due process in one form or another. Unless Congress were to spell out particular hallmarks of insufficient due process for the judiciary to then weigh or the Department of Justice or State were to create lists of states deemed insufficiently just by a notice and comment rule-making promulgation system, tasking a judge to wade in sua sponte on another country’s judiciary, particular one with which our nation shares tense relations, is a tall order. Indeed, we have only been able to find one such instance in which a court determined that an entire sovereign’s procedures were insufficiently impartial and sufficiently in “disarray” to warrant their findings moot: Liberia. The findings in that case—that “as a matter of law, Liberia’s courts did not constitute ‘a system of jurisprudence likely to secure an impartial administration of justice’ and that, as a result, the Liberian judgment was unenforceable in the United States”—cannot be said of Russia, whatever legitimate criticism the Russian legal system may face.
Russia is not the only country in the world with a corrupt and kleptocratic government. It is thus not the only government in the world to which current U.S. law exposes our legal system to exploitation at the expense of dissidents. Whether it is uniquely bad in this regard or whether these cases reflect a more general policy problem with respect to the interaction between U.S. and authoritarian legal regimes warrants congressional attention.
Our point, for present purposes, is threefold: First, the analogy to Russian electoral inference, which involved a covert action by an intelligence agency, is imprecise and misleading. Second, it is worth distinguishing carefully between situations of genuine abuse of the American legal system—that is, situations in which our courts are being defrauded—and situations in which the U.S. legal system is working exactly as designed, just on behalf of legal judgments and proceedings that are themselves unfair. These problems are quite different and have very different solutions. Finally, third, it is worth exploring in a serious way whether the latter problem of Russian lawful exploitation of U.S. law is fundamentally a Russia problem or the tip of a larger iceberg of the vulnerability of these provisions to exploitation by authoritarian governments at the expense of dissidents in the United States and elsewhere. Either way, small changes in law could make a big difference.