Russia Rules Out Prisoner Swap Deal for Israeli Jailed on Drug Charges

Russian deputy FM says it's Naama Issachar's right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in case that strained ties between Jerusalem and Moscow

Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court, December 19, 2019.

Moscow is not considering a prisoners exchange deal to release an Israeli woman jailed on drug trafficking charges, Deputy Foreign Minister Evgeniy Ivanov told the Russian news agency TASS on Tuesday.

The statement came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to the 25-year-old Naama Issachar, informing her that he is investing "endless efforts" to bring her home.

Issachar was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for possession of 9.6 grams of hashish during a layover in the Moscow Airport. Her imprisonment was seen as a bargaining chip in efforts to prevent the extradition of Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov, who was held in Israel but turned over to the United States in November. 

"Issachar was convicted of criminal charges. Her claim before the European Court of Human Rights is up to her lawyers. We can't say anything about, it's her right," said Ivanov.

Last month, a Moscow court rejected her appeal. Israel has submitted an official request to pardon her, and diplomatic sources told Haaretz that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Israel, which is slated for this month, is linked to the request. 

"Naama does not need to carry all the interests and disagreements between Israel and Russia on her shoulders," her family has said. "We ask the prime minister, fulfill your commitments. Don't permit a situation in which Putin lands in Israel for a state ceremony without Naama coming home."

The high-profile case has strained diplomatic relations between the two countries.