Russia to Use the Snowden Asylum Bid Against the U.S.?

Russia confirmed on Tuesday that they received a request for temporary asylum from the former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, wanted by the United States for leaking secrets about U.S. surveillance programs involving phone and Internet data. The confirmation was made while the U.S government continues to appeal to the Russian authorities to expel Snowden and send him back to the USA where the whistleblower would face U.S. espionage charges. Russian officials said they began the first stages of defining Snowden’s legal status, and that the process may result in granting him asylum status with the right of freely working and moving throughout Russia. Now, the question is whether or not Russia would use Snowden against the U.S., if and when the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor is granted asylum, and receives a Russian work permit.

There has been no official word regarding the problems that could possibly exist between the two countries. However, analyzing speeches from both the U.S. and Russia, there are indications that this may be a matter of deep concern.

The Russian Federal Migration Service has the power to review Snowden’s application and will examine the request over a three-month period. Russian President Vladmir Putin  is fully involved in the situation. However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claims that President Putin will not have any influence regarding the asylum process.

Just after the announcement that Snowden’s asylum application was received, Putin used the term “an unwelcome present from the U.S.,” when talking about the presence of Snowden in Russia, according to al-Jazeera.

The statement raises questions. Snowden could later be granted a certificate that would allow him to move freely about the country and obtain work. If the whistleblower is granted political asylum, he will have the same freedoms as any other Russian citizen, according to a Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena.

Snowden’s request would still have to be approved. If it is, he will be able to renew his asylum status annually for as long as he chooses to do so. The process can take as long as six months or more, and no action has taken place at the present time.

Putin’s statement characterizing Snowden’s presence as “an unwelcome present from the U.S.” has not been confirmed by Washington. Although there are rumors, it has not been confirmed whether or not President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Moscow for face-to-face talks, ahead of the St. Petersburg summit in September with leaders of the G20 nations, will go ahead. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday he has no further announcements regarding Obama’s travel to Russia. An administration official said the White House’s lack of information about the Obama Moscow visit is confirmation that the President is very upset about the issue.

Many in the US political arena think that an Obama decision not to attend talks with Putin would register his displeasure with the Russian leader’s refusal thus far to expel Snowden back to the United States. In remarks about the matter, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC on Tuesday that Washington should consider boycotting the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics if Snowden is granted asylum in Russia.

“I love the Olympics, but I hate what the Russian government is doing throughout the world,” suggested Graham. “If they give asylum to a person who I believe has committed treason against the United States, that’s taking it to a new level.”

The Russian President stated earlier in July that Snowden’s case should not diminish the relationship between the United States and his country. Putin said Russia could grant Snowden asylum status if only the whistle-blower agreed to stop the leak of information.

Washington has reacted sharply to the possibility that Moscow might offer Snowden a safe haven and accused it of providing him a propaganda platform. US Administration officials revealed that Obama affirmed his support for Putin’s statement about seeking to maintain a good relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Obama and Putin reportedly spoke about the issue by phone last Friday. Administration officials say Obama reiterated the same message as that communicated by other U.S. officials at various levels to their Russian counterparts – that Russia has the legal requirement to expel Snowden, and should do so.

But apparently, Russia chose the humanitarian side and may provide safe haven for Snowden while “he is being pursued by the US government and fears for his life, and safety; that he will be tortured or receive the death penalty if he returns to the United States.”

Ultimately the question will remain, even though times have changed, and the cold war is officially long passed; will Russia capitalize on Snowden’s knowledge and use him against the United States? Both nations await the answer.

Eddy Isango

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