by Natalya Kovalenko, Voice of Russia
The Ecuadorian authorities have decided to grant asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said during a live interview on local television on Thursday. Meanwhile, the UK Foreign Office has made it plain that Ecuador’s decision would not affect London’s legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden.
Earlier, British diplomats hoped to resolve the problems by means of negotiations with Ecuadorian colleagues. They said that if the talks came to a standstill, they would have to resort to the use of force. Such an open pressure infuriated the Ecuadorian authorities who at the same time signaled their readiness to continue to adhere to their principles, says Valery Korovin, head of the Center for Geopolitical Expertise in Moscow.
"A desire to grant asylum to Assange is a very bold manifestation of the sovereignty of a small yet proud state, Korovin says. I think that what really matters here is a precedent. That a state grants political asylum to Assange in the face of London’s threat to resort to the use of force is an example of how all those who have repeatedly upheld their sovereignty should behave."
On the other hand, the Ecuadorian authorities’ decision is unlikely to alter Assange’s fate, analysts say. He will not be able to flee because the building of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London is currently cordoned off by police. Assange although benefitting from the hospitality of Ecuadorian diplomats will not last long given that the British legislation allows the UK to revoke the diplomatic status of any embassy on UK soil, which would potentially allow police to enter the building to arrest Assange. Under the document, the British government should notify Ecuador in written form of their intention within a week’s time, something which was done earlier on Thursday.
If Britons finally decide on such a step, this will be a grave violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, says Alexei Podtserob, former Russian ambassador to Libya and Tunisia.
"Any attempt to enter the territory of an embassy without being endorsed by its personnel and the ambassador, not to mention an attempt to burst into an embassy is a gross violation of international law. The embassy’s territory is an inviolable territory. And it is very strange that Britain, which has repeatedly signaled its adherence to international law, is considering taking such a step," Podtserob says.
Australian citizen Julain Assange grabbed the international headlines after the Wikileaks website that he founded published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that specifically shed light on the US’ covert activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans perceived this as espionage, and Assange could face the death penalty if convicted in the US.
In 2010, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for Assange who was accused of committing sexual offences against two women, charges that Assange vehemently rejected. He had more than once tried to prod Britain to say ‘no’ to Sweden’s extradition requests. London, however, promised Stockholm to extradite Assange to Sweden and is now poised for an international scandal over the matter.