On Snowden and Russia

Just a very short one for today because this would be too long a status update. I will expand on this later but the key event today obviously was the confusion over Snowden’s status in Russia. Apparently, he will be staying at Sheremetyevo airport “for now” because his asylum request is still pending. It has also been said that he might decide to stay in Russia indefinitely if his request is granted.

I had a bit of trouble to get my head around this; after all, Snowden previously said that he would travel on to South America. A decision to stay in Russia may mean that he will not be able to leak any further information as Vladimir Putin has made this the condition for asylum. So, why would Snowden accept a gag? It has been suggested before that his initial decision to reject Russia’s asylum offer may have been brave but a little ill-advised. It would seem that this is true because the question that emerges is how many options Snowden has left.

Consider this: “None of the three Latin American countries [Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela which have offered Snowden asylum and where he had planned to travel to from Russia] can be reached by a direct commercial flight from Moscow so Snowden has requested temporary asylum in Russia until he believes he can safely reach one of them.” Safe travel seems to be the key issue here: The Guardian’s Geoffrey Roberts makes the excellent point that Snowden might not even be safe on a commercial flight. Now, I do find the fact that his Russian lawyer is close to the Kreml and apparently milking this for a place in the spotlight upsetting. However, the key question is how much choice Snowden has at this point. The confusion over his papers today – and the fact that he ultimately did not get them – may point to the kind of unresolvable situation the US have created for him. Again, the US administration has stressed that they are “very disappointed” with Russia’s handling of the situation. The Kreml is obviously anxious not to damage relations with the US further. I wonder if there is any alternative to accepting a gag from Russia if Snowden wants to avoid extradition to the US – which he absolutely should! Is he going to be coerced into a quiet life in Russia because he has nowhere else to go?

Do you know, when you think this through to the end, it gives you a very bad feeling indeed. I may be getting paranoid but to me this is starting look something like this:

The USA want Snowden back so they can put him on trial on charges of treason and espionage (is the official position. Unofficially, this may mean something different – again, I will go into that later). Clearly, the next best thing if they cannot get him extradited would be to stop him leaking or even talking.

Now. Russia’s refusal to extradite Snowden is putting a lot of strain on Russian-US relations which the Kreml clearly does not want to damage further. Hence, Putin’s condition that Snowden, if the wants to stay in Russia, has to stop “damaging the US” – he basically has to keep quiet. If commercial flights are unsafe, Snowden may have to stay in Russia and would then have to continue to comply with Putin’s condition. Also, I have a hunch that the decision to remain in Russia would just re-kindle accusations that he was a spy all along or that his assertions that he never gave any information to Russia or China are lies.

So, considering all this, I ask myself  what kind of scenario emerges: not extradition but effective silencing – and potential discrediting – of the man….? Am I seeing things?

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2 thoughts on “On Snowden and Russia

  1. I agree with you in principle but thing you might be overstating the complicity of Russia in the mix. On the most fundemental level any piece of intellligence that can be coaxed from Snowden is potentially valuable to Russia, his presense in the country is valuable in so far as he can be seen to support the political status quo but he is a dangerous house guest. Lastly their position on his no more further leaks can be taken three ways, Complicity and koutou to US dominance (unlikely), a desire to reduce his political volatility (improbable) a recognition and play on his limited mobility….

    I wouldn’t take the position of the USSR… Sorry Russia 😛 as being in anyway part of the US position to silence him. Their ability to do so would hardly translate into effective capital or strengthen relations given how they’ve already played the last hand, there has to be another agenda in play

    • Hah, that’s what happens when you churn out a post too quickly; you are misunderstood. You’re making excellent points, John, which I am going to consider carefully when I edit this. For now, let me say though that I didn’t mean that Russia was necessarily complicit in this. Rather, my impression is that the way that the US are handling this diplomatically might mean that they still manage to make Snowden go quiet – not only because they are leaning on other governments but also because the Snowden’s having to stay in Russia would look dodgy to a lot of people. Hence, the additional potential benefit of rising doubts about his motives…? This is pure conjecture obviously; it was just something that occurred to me yesterday because of some of the comments that were made over the last couple of weeks.

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