Steven Lendman: Snowden in Russia
Snowden remains in Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport transit zone limbo. Russia's his safest option.
Traveling elsewhere's too risky. It's hazardous. He's seeking temporary asylum. Odds are he'll get it.
Moscow won't extradite him. It has no treaty obligation to do so. Washington never repatriated Russian defectors. Heavy US pressure's exerted anyway.
Few countries resist. Few push back effectively. China can do it. So can Russia. On the one hand, Putin values good relations. On the other, he won't be bullied.
Supporting Snowden's politically advantageous. According to Der Spiegel:
His activist status largely united a "deeply divided society. Whether conservative or liberal, anti- or pro-American, Putin supporter or opponent – they have all voiced support for granting (him) asylum."
Expect Putin to take full advantage. He has plenty of domestic problems. Snowden changes the subject. Supporting him's politically beneficial.
At the same time, he'll be diplomatically careful. It shows in his comments. Der Spiegel believes Kremlin officials are involved. They're helping Snowden. They wouldn't be without official authorization.
"Moscow-based lawyers and politicians close to the government" arranged his meeting with human rights groups. He needed their help to do it.
"Snowden (will) stay in Russia." It's just a matter of working things out.
On July 16, Voice of Russia headlined "Russia to give Snowden freedom of movement," saying:
He'll "be able to move across Russian territory while Moscow looks into his bid for political asylum."
"An informed police source told reporters a special permit will be issued for the American intelligence leaker, stranded in a no-man’s-land in Moscow’s airport lounge, giving him freedom to travel."
"The source said Snowden’s asylum plea would be considered even in the absence of any ID."
Immigration officials may take "five days to preview (his) request." A full review may last several months. Perhaps it'll be expedited. Given what's at stake and his prominence, it won't surprise.
For now, Russian territory's his best bet. Latin and Central American countries are more easily bullied. Venezuela's the one exception.
Cuba's less certain. Whether Raul Castro's as committed as Fidel remains to be seen. He wants normalized US relations. Granting Snowden asylum jeopardizes achieving them. It's unclear if he'll risk it.
Putin has less to lose. He has more to gain. Sergei Naryshkin chairs Russia's Duma. He's a former Kremlin chief of staff. Russian law permits granting Snowden asylum, he said.
In America, he risks capital punishment. "We simply don't have the right to allow something like that to happen," he stressed.
His comment appears to reflect Moscow's intentions. Snowden had direct contact with Russian officials. It shows government support. So does almost daily favorable Russia Today coverage. Voice of Russia's doing the same thing.
Snowden's supported for political reasons. Alexander Sidyakin's a ruling United Russia party parliamentarian. He'll nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize, he said.
Russia's mass-circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda praised Putin's support. It did so in song, saying:
"Putin is the hero of our time. The world loves this Russia, which is capable of withstanding all pressure."
Putin shows leadership. He's doing the right thing. It's not without risks. He wants people believing Russia remains a superpower.
It's proud and reassertive. It's not about to roll over for Washington. It's able to confront US policymakers effectively.
At the same time, delicate balancing is important. He wants no further bilateral deterioration. Short-term doesn't matter. Longer-term good relations are valued.
Putin holds more trump cards than Obama. America's influence is waning. It's slow but perceptible. No one likes a bully. Washington makes more enemies than friends.
Russia's able to capitalize strategically. Putin's taking full advantage. Fiona Hill's a Brookings Institution Russian/Eurasian expert. Her recently published book is titled "Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin."
In late June, she said Moscow's "making everything (it) can of (the Snowden affair) to show the United States up in the global field of public relations."
It's doing it effectively. Snowden's more godsend than burden. Expect ruffled feathers with America to pass. Threats about "serious consequences" reflect more bluster than actionable intentions.
Washington has more to lose than gain. Fracturing bilateral relations makes no sense. Doing so's self-defeating. Expect anti-Russian measures to be minimal.
Behind the scenes business as usual continues. It's been that way for years. It won't change now. Both sides know the stakes. They agree. Bluster is red meat without substance. It makes good headlines. It accomplishes little else.
On June 24, Russia Beyond the Headlines asked "Will Snowden impact the US-Russia reset?"
Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said "Americans can't demand anything. We can extradite him, or we can refuseâ€¦"
"It's a good detective story." It's not much else.
Center for Political Technologies analyst Alexei Mararkin believes Snowden's status won't worsen bilateral relations. Perhaps reset notions will end. They've been fragile at best all along.
"The Snowden case is a piece of the general context of Russia-U.S. relations," said Marakin.
"A harsh and emotional reaction from Washington would have occurred if the situation had been at contrast with the generally good and remarkable relations and the sides had had a high level of mutual trust."
"I do not think the situation may worsen the relationship, which is already complicated."
Obama won't push Putin too hard, he added. America's next president may "close the reset question."
"The issue is important for Obama, and he does not want to abandon it publicly."
"Otherwise, he will seriously damage his image and hear criticism not only from the Republicans, but also from many Democrats for his inefficient" Russian policy.
At the same time, both countries disagree on major issues. Syria's contentious for both sides. Arms control differences remain.
America's global militarization remains worrisome. Obama's more belligerent than Bush. Washington's surrounding Russia with US bases.
Weapons of mass destruction target Russian sites. Close by missile defense and advanced tracking radar systems are for offense.
At issue is America maintaining first-strike capability. Strategic and tactical nuclear weapons are positioned nearby.
Russia's at risk. Putin knows it's targeted. It strains relations. It's far more important than Snowden. War or peace matters most.
Ignore public bluster on both sides. Bilateral priorities haven't changed. At the same time, events going forward bear close watching. Cold War memories persist.
A Final Comment
On July 15, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald continued his Snowden coverage. He headlined "The crux of the NSA story in one phrase: 'collect it all.' "
Doing so reflects NSA head General Keith Alexander's agenda. He wants everyone monitored everywhere all time time. He wants Big Brother spying at home and abroad.
"Rather than look(ing) for a single needle in the haystack," he favors "collect(ing) the whole haystack." Collect everything. "Collect it all, tag it, store it."
His approach is "menacing" and "creepy." No electronic, telephonic, or perhaps other communications are free from NSA monitoring.
"(E)ven (Alexander's) defenders say (his) aggressiveness sometimes (exceeds) the outer edge of his legal authority."
Others say he prioritizes doing it. It's standard NSA policy. He's an authority unto himself. He does what he wants, when and how. He's accountable to no one. His rules alone matter. Nothing else.
He's obsessed and driven. He's a serial lawbreaker. He doesn't give a damn. Who'll stop him? He's got high-level support.
Numerous exposed NSA documents "demonstrate that the NSA's goal is to collect, monitor and store every telephone and internet communication that takes place inside the US and on the earth," said Greenwald.
"It already collects billions of calls and emails every single day." It's got trillions of internal US phone calls and emails.
It's "constantly seeking to expand its capabilities without limits." America's a classic "ubiquitous surveillance state."
Secrecy shrouds its activities from public view. Snowden changed things. He connected important dots. He did so for millions.
He told people what they need to know. He did so courageously. He sacrificed plenty to do it. Few would go as far.
Exposing "collect it all" notions matter. They need to be denounced. They need to be opposed. They need to be changed. Mass activism alone has a chance to do so.
Political Washington won't help. Nor will complicit media scoundrels. What's too disturbing to permit can't be tolerated.
Americans have a choice. They can fight for freedom or lose it. There's no in between.