Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor wanted by the United States for leaking secrets about U.S. surveillance programs involving phone and Internet data, is still in the transit zone of a Moscow airport, in Russia; 30 days after he landed there and eight days after he formally requested temporary asylum. Now that his request has been granted, has Russia come to Snowden’s rescue?
Snowden remains in this zone even though Russian’s officials said earlier that Snowden was finally provided with a document allowing him to leave the airport transit zone and enter Russia, according to a report Wednesday by Russian news agency RIA Novosti. The agency quoted Snowden’s lawyer as saying that they are facing some bureaucratic hurdles. The news was contradictory to what a security official told the News agency earlier, saying that Snowden is then formally allowed to enter Russia where he could further be granted asylum status, along with the right to freely work and move throughout Russia. There is no guarantee that the U.S. whistleblower will now be able to view life through rose-tinted glasses.
The question arises as to whether Russia has yet come to the rescue of the former U.S. spy.
Officially, Snowden has spent exactly one month at the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. He arrived there on June 23 on a flight from Hong Kong. No details have been given about his life in the transit zone even though it could be speculated that his life may have not been better than his normal time. What is known is that he is in touch with lawyers working on his case, who do have not said anything about his conditions in the transit zone. “Snowden looks well. I can’t say he is happy or sad. He is in a situation when he is waiting for Russia’s decision. He asked what to do next if he is refused asylum in Russia. He’s trying to be brave,” said his Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena. “Unfortunately, the situation that has come about is not standard for Russia, (we are) facing some bureaucracy: the documents are still being considered. … We will wait and hope that the issue will be resolved in next several days.”
What is worrying about Snowden’s condition is that Kucherena told Russia’s Rossiya-24 television that he wishes Snowden to read a novel titled “Crime and Punishment”, among several other books he brought him. “Crime and Punishment” talks about the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of a poor ex-student who kills a pawnbroker for her cash. Even though the lawyer told Rossiya-24 that he is not “implying he (Snowden) is going through a similar mental anguish”, this does not hide the inference that Snowden could have to live in tribulation.
Were the thirty days Snowden spent in the transit zone a start of his anguish? Nobody can say that better Snowden himself. He has not spoken since he revealed secrets about U.S. surveillance programs – involving phone and Internet data – whilst he was in China. For sure, his greatest anguish might be a result of knowing that he is wanted by the US, where he would face trial for treason. In addition, the cover he is seeking from Russia may not to be fully guaranteed, as US officials are presently talking about boycotting meetings with Russia. They consider this to be a way of forcing Moscow to give him up.
It is becoming obvious that President Obama may cancel face-to-face talks with his Russia counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, ahead of the St. Petersburg G20 summit, scheduled for September. White House spokesman Jay Carney remained vague last week when responding to a question from a reporter; refusing to make 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.
However, many in the US political arena gave indications that a 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.”
An additional setback to US-Russian relations was last week’s conviction of prominent Russian opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny. The US administration cited a trend of “suppressing dissent and civil society in Russia”. Navalny was convicted on embezzlement charges and sentenced to five years of imprisonment just one week after the posthumous conviction of another of Putin’s opponents, Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer investigating official corruption. Magnitsky was arrested and died in custody.
Putin implied hypocrisy on the part of the US; comparing this situation to that of Snowden. He told reporters that the Washington has been hypocritical in complaining about Russian actions while seeking to prosecute a leaker who exposed American surveillance programs. “Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are far more important than squabbles about the activities of the secret services,” Putin said a week ago, referring to his scheduled Moscow meeting with Obama.
Putin has also said that he does not want the showdown over Snowden to harm ties between the two countries. Knowing he may be granted asylum and receive a Russian work permit. Snowden could use his expertise to work for Russian against Washington.
This is not ruled out, as Putin himself used the term “an unwelcome present from the U.S.,” just after the announcement that Snowden’s asylum application was received, according to al-Jazeera.
Snowden will have no less anguish, however, remaining at the center of a squabble between countries. Although he may have been granted temporary asylum, Russia may not have come to his rescue yet, after unveiling secrets about U.S. surveillance programs, he would certainly be targeted forever.
Source: New York Times