A former Marine who claims to have exposed clandestine U.S. support for the Republic of Georgia in its 2008 war with Russia has requested political asylum in Russia. U.S. citizen Patrick Downey first sought asylum in Ireland, where his case was denied–as he puts it–by Ireland’s first ever Jewish Minister for Justice, Equality and Defense. He then “fled” to Russia (after visiting the U.S. for his brother’s wedding), where his asylum case is currently pending.
Pravda reports that while living in Georgia in 2007 and teaching English to Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, Mr. Downey “obtained documents” indicating that a U.S.-controlled bank transferred $12 million to Mr. Ivanishvili. Mr. Ivanishvili, in turn, used the money to fund “anti-Russian activities” prior to and during the Russian-Georgian war. Mr. Downey tried to publicize this “sensational material” in the U.S., but no one was interested. However, his activities supposedly brought him to the attention of the U.S. government, which gave him the code name “Trouble Man” and tried to “neutralize” him. Mr. Downey told Pravda, “I began to feel that it was simply dangerous for me to be in the U.S.”
Hence, he fled to Ireland and now Russia.
While I must admit that I am skeptical of Mr. Downey’s claims (and I am not thrilled by his antisemitism), the fact that he is currently receiving publicity from a Russian newspaper is significant. On October 1st, Mr. Ivanishvili’s political party won parliamentary elections in Georgia, and he is likely to become the country’s new Prime Minister. As such, the timing of the article about Mr. Downey–and his claims of a secret anti-Russian alliance between the U.S. and Georgia–has broader implications.
Is Russia trying to intimidate Georgia? Is it trying to send a signal to the United States to keep away? Is Pravda simply writing an interesting story about an American seeking asylum in Russia? I have no idea. But it seems to me, if the Russian government is trying to send some type of message by publicizing Mr. Downey’s case, the message is not a friendly one.
It will be interesting to see what the Russian government does with Mr. Downey. Russia grants less than 5% of asylum cases, so if his case is approved, it might indicate more trouble ahead for Russian-Georgian and Russian-U.S. relations. As for Mr. Downey, if his case is granted, his hopes are the same as those of other asylum seekers around the world: “I will live! I will get married. I do not want to fight, do not want to constantly be afraid. I want a family and a home. I hope that this is what I will get.”