A month after the Associated Press published internal WikiLeaks files which suggested the transparency organization's founder Julian Assange had since 2010 contemplated moving to Russia — outside the reach of US and UK authorities — newly released Ecuadorean government documents have revealed a more elaborate plan to escape to Moscow by using Ecuadorean diplomatic cover.
The documents show that the plan was being pursued as recently as 2017, and involved Assange being transferred from his Ecuadorean embassy hideout — where he's been stuck for the last six years — via a politically sensitive process whereby Ecuador would name him as a political counselor to the country's embassy in Moscow.
Should the plan have succeeded, Assange could have possibly freely exited the UK for Russia as an official diplomat for Ecuador with all the legal protections afforded such status. However, British authorities vetoed his diplomatic status and refused to recognize such a designation, which ultimately blocked the plan from coming to fruition.
According to the AP, which has linked to the 167 pages of Spanish language secret internal government documents, Assange was actually for a brief period made "political counselor" to the Ecuadorean Embassy in Moscow:
The files were made public late Tuesday by Ecuadorean opposition lawmaker Paola Vintimilla, who opposes her government’s decision to grant Assange nationality. They largely corroborate a recent Guardian newspaper report that Ecuador attempted the elaborate maneuver to get Assange to Moscow just before Christmas last year.
Russian diplomats called the Guardian’s story “fake news,” but the government files show Assange briefly was made “political counselor” to the Ecuadorean Embassy in Moscow and eligible for a monthly salary pegged at $2,000.
It appears the leaks are part of an organized opposition plan to quash any possible future escape or transfer attempts before they materialize.
The files show Ecuador went so far as to apply for Assange's diplomatic ID card — something which the British vetoed. One letter dated December 21, 2017 released as part of the leaked trove on Tuesday shows Britain’s Foreign Office said U.K. officials “do not consider Mr. Julian Assange to be an acceptable member of the mission.”
And subsequent to this, the AP reports, an eight-page memo to parliamentarian Paolo Vintimilla said that Assange’s position as counselor was revoked a few days later. The memo had further summarized the entirety of the plan to allow Assange to escape UK soil under cover of diplomatic protection.
From the documents:— Raphael Satter (@razhael) October 17, 2018
Here's the staffing note laying out Assange's would-be job in Moscow, complete with salary. We'll hopefully have it another docs up soon. pic.twitter.com/AWNrPlUHQU
Thus far neither the British Foreign Office nor the Russian Embassy in London have issued comment. A number of political leaders and media pundits in the West have long accused Assange and WikiLeaks of being an arm of Russian intelligence, and they'll most certainly seize upon these new files to continue such allegations; however, with Assange's physical and also possibly mental health reportedly deteriorating after six years of confinement within the small embassy space, it makes perfect sense that he would attempt any way out possible — while further seeking the protections of any sympathetic government.
In 2013 Edward Snowden fled to Moscow after going public with thousands of classified NSA files from Hong Kong which revealed an extensive illegal domestic spying network by the United States government. Snowden has been granted a permit by the Russian government to stay until at least 2020, and he's reportedly residing at an undisclosed location in or around Moscow.
It appears Assange too was hoping to make it to Russian soil under Ecuadorean cover where he also might have eventually been granted such a deal.