Standort: / Meldung: "Edward Snowden's Rehearsals for departure"

Charles Maynes Moscow

Journalist in Moscow

2. 7. 2013 - 18:03

Edward Snowden's Rehearsals for departure

The fugitive whistleblower changed his mind about appealing asylum in Russia. Why?

It could have ended with a hero's welcome, Soviet-style. An ovation at the Duma, a luxury apartment overlooking the Kremlin. Perhaps even a dacha country house to retire to on those lazy summer weekends.

But after a brief dalliance with becoming the newest of Russians, it now appears that Edward Snowden will remain in the no-man's land transit corridor of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. At least for the time being.
In the end, the former CIA contractor-turned-fugitive-whistle blower's request for asylum in Russia lasted all of one day.

Snowden's new best hope for respite from American authorities now lies with appeals launched by his friends in Wikileaks for asylum in 21 other countries – Austria included (Bolivia and Venezuela are considered leading contenders).

Twitter-Screenshot von Wikileaks Posts


But Russia - one of the few countries that takes genuine pleasure in provoking Washington's wrath - is off Snowden's list.

Why the change of heart?

Oddly enough, the sticking point seems to be Russian President Vladimir Putin. Commenting on the Snowden case on Sunday, Putin insisted that Russia would never cede to American government demands to turn Snowden over. But the Russian leader also insisted that Snowden could remain on one condition: "he must stop his work aimed at bringing harm to our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my mouth."

Let's pause to let that one sink in. I certainly had to.

It's a smirk worthy statement from the Russian leader, given that he has relished in poking a finger – if not his entire fist – in the eye of the United States government.

Putin's third term has been characterized by sustained anti-American hysteria that has soured relations with Washington but scored points with conservative forces at home. Snowden was being built up as the Kremlin's latest stick-it-to-Uncle Sam public relations coup.
But, in the end, Putin seems to have calculated that Snowden wasn't worth the trouble.

Sheremetyevo International Airport


Not worth the trouble. Why ?

One theory goes that harboring Snowden would take relations with the U.S. even lower than Putin wants to go.

Another version points out that Russian secret services do much the same spying as the Americans (Awkward, no?) .

But a final point - one I'd like to raise - is that Putin likes to speak of human rights in terms that would seem a poor fit for Snowden's world view.

Consider events over the past few months:

  • 25 Russians currently face criminal charges for participating in a political rally that broke into a melee with police in May of 2012.
  • Russia's own native-born whistle blower – the anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny – is facing his own criminal trial on charges of embezzlement. Many regard the case as politically motivated.
  • Russian NGOs, including leading human rights organizations, have been targeted by authorities for operating as 'foreign agents.'
  • Last weekend Putin signed Russia's controversial 'anti-gay' legislation into federal law. The measure sanctions second-class status and punishing fines against Russia's LGBT community.

Whatever your position on Snowden, these cases, too, beg a wider discussion about freedom of expression, corruption, and the consequences of exposing truth-to-power.

If Snowden had taken Russian asylum and remained the freedom fighter he claims to be, he might have found the need to write about these issues as well.

Putin understands this. Better than Snowden - wherever he ends up - will ever know.