Arrest warrant issued for Meta spokesperson, from Russia with love

Earlier this week, a Moscow court upped its witchhunt against Meta spokesperson Andy Stone – issuing a full-blown arrest order on charges of inciting terrorism, among others. Is the Kremlin just blustering to gain attention, or does Stone seriously need to start watching his back?

While Meta and Stone have stayed mum on Putin’s latest so-called propaganda move, US national security lawyer and geopolitical analyst Irina Tsukerman gave Cybernews the inside scoop on the potential fallout, and what it all means for Stone, Russia, and the world stage.

Propaganda for domestic consumption

A Moscow District Court on Monday issued the two-month ‘in absentia’ arrest order at the request of Russian investigators who aim to prosecute Stone on numerous counts of terror-related activities.

Although the warrant was announced on February 12th, the court session took place on November 24, 2023, with the ruling taking effect on December 25th.

The slew of charges include the "promotion of terrorist activities, public calls for terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism, and public calls for extremist activities," according to a court statement released Monday.

Tsukerman, also the President of Scarab Rising, Inc., a security and geopolitical risk strategic advisory firm, says that Russia’s terror lists are mostly just propaganda for domestic consumption.

“Russia needs some way of legitimizing its crack down on foreign social media networks which have become quite popular with Russians, especially young people,” Tsukerman explains.

Going after individual members to “show their seriousness” is par for the course, according to Tsukerman, who points out that the Kremlin has “years of concerted domestic efforts to smear anyone who questions Putin's methods.”

Stone accused of terrorism

The accusations against the Meta Communications Director date back to March 2022, when just weeks after the February 24th invasion of Ukraine, Russian media outlets were banned from all Meta social media platforms.

The Kremlin responded by banning Facebook and Instagram throughout the nation, and officially declared Meta and its employees an extremist organization.

Even now, Russia has held onto the narrative that, at the time, Stone had allowed posts on Meta platforms that called for violence against Russians, with Stone complicitly labeling it a “form of political self-expression."

Russia’s arrest order is “a means of discrediting their critics, showing Russian dedication to alleged national security concerns, and defending the Russian image from attacks by hostile foreigners, as they claim,” Tsukerman said.

Tsukerman also said that going after well known companies is a means of deterrence to keep the existing "business partners" in line.

“Russia is serious when it comes to using foreigners as bargaining chips and making life as difficult as possible for both domestic and foreign critics and corporations that have to follow US/EU laws,” Tsukerman said.

Businesses and individuals are forced to choose between doing business with Russia or following laws and cultural norms in their own countries and regions, she said.

Meta Communications Director Andy Stone

Stone and the Russian bear

Stone has been on the Russian federal and international most wanted list since November, and as of February 12th, on the Russians’ financial monitoring terror watch list.

"The court has handed down a measure of restraint in the form of remand in custody for two months on Andy Mark Stone from the moment of his detention in Russia or extradition to Russia," the court said Monday.

Is there some loophole Russia could take advantage of to actually carry out the arrest?

Tsukerman said it is not impossible, but it “unlikely these terrorism trials will have a serious long term impact on anyone unless they travel to Russia.”

Even so, Tsukerman points out that an allied country who chooses to cooperate, could take Stone into custody and transfer them to Moscow.

“The more distant these countries are from the US in terms of influence, aid, and relations, the riskier it would be for Stone to go there,” Tsukerman pointed out.

“For instance, West African countries under Russian influence are very likely to comply; Turkey and UAE are not likely to extradite him, but he could face harassment and various obstacles to doing business,” she said.

The Iranian government, for example, has been known to lure and entrap dissidents abroad to enter "unsafe" third countries such as Iraq, Turkey, and Oman, where they were then abducted by third parties and transferred back to Iran, Tsukerman said.

Russia has also shown a willingness to try to assassinate opposition abroad, but only if it considers Stone a top target, said Tsukerman.

“As a corporate manager with a relatively low name recognition in the media outside tech circles, Stone is not likely to fit this profile, although Russia may look for ways to grab him to use him politically,” she said.

Russia doesn't forget its enemies

Tsukerman believes it is more conceivable the Kremlin would harass Stone using legal means, for example, by filing endless Red Notices with the Interpol, even just to create travel-related concerns and inconveniences.

Although, Tsukerman does note that Interpol “has a record of eventually rejecting Red Notices that are indicative of abuse by authoritarian and human rights abusive states such as Russia.”

The possibility of civil litigation is also something to consider, she said.

“So far, Russia has not pursued civil lawsuits in international foram against Western individuals placed on its various blacklists, but that's potential for the future in countries where Russia has significant influence,” she added.

So, what are the actual realities facing Stone in this scenario? Could Stone be forced to feel the cold breath of the Russian Federation at his back for the next decade or will this eventually pass?

The trial, set to be held in the next few months, may shed light on how Moscow might handle Meta’s 'spokes-persona' non grata moving forward.

Yet, the expectation of a fair trial is probably slim to none considering the Kremlin’s long standing anti-Meta rhetoric since the the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Either way, not an envious place to be. Putin’s ego is not for the faint of heart, and this scenario is no exception.

“It is unlikely that the average American or European will take these terrorism charges seriously, but it will have a chilling effect on anyone looking to do any sort of business that could even implicate Russian involvement," Tsukerman said.

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