Paralyzed Russian seeks end in case against U.S. diplomat

Sunday, September 15, 2002

MOSCOW -- On a Tuesday night in 1998, 23-year-old part-time student Alexander Kashin flagged down a ride on one of the main streets of Russia's Pacific port of Vladivostok. Shortly after he took his seat, he saw a car coming toward his at right angles, he tensed and lost consciousness.

Kashin awoke in a hospital, paralyzed below the shoulders -- and at the center of diplomatic controversy. The car that hit his was driven by Douglas Kent, the U.S. consul general in Vladivostok at the time.

In the nearly four years since the accident, Kashin and his lawyers have made several attempts to bring court action against Kent. The legal moves were met with citations of diplomatic immunity and motions to dismiss.

The legal maneuverings have angered many Russians, who see Kent and the U.S. government as trying to dodge their legal and moral responsibilities.

But this summer a U.S. federal court denied Kent's latest motion to dismiss a civil suit by Kashin seeking $9 million in damages and on Friday papers were filed in federal district court in Alexandria, Va., to set a trial date.

"I have trust in American courts and believe that I will get a just decision," Kashin said in a telephone interview this month from his parents' apartment, which he is rarely able to leave.

That's an outlook not shared by many in his hometown, where his case has received prominent media coverage.

"Why does American diplomacy sabotage the settlement of this ... Friendship with America is strange; it is one-way traffic," commented the Vladivostok weekly newspaper Zolotoi Rog.

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