Feature

Russia: Happily hosting Edward Snowden

The fugitive NSA contractor has asked Russia for temporary asylum until he can work out an arrangement to get to Latin America.

It looks like Russia is stuck with Edward Snowden for a while longer, said Fedor Lukyanov in Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia). The fugitive NSA contractor, who has been ensconced for weeks in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, this week asked for temporary asylum until he could work out an arrangement to get to Latin America. The U.S. seeks his extradition for having revealed its massive NSA surveillance programs that spy on the emails and phone calls of U.S. citizens, foreigners, and even diplomats. It’s “absolutely obvious that Moscow cannot extradite Snowden”—nobody would think for a second that the U.S. would send us a Russian spy in the same circumstances. And it’s only the fault of the U.S. government that he’s stranded here at all. First it revoked his passport, and then it “made the technical question of his departure for a third country extremely complicated” by bullying European countries into diverting Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane, suspecting Snowden was aboard.

That tactic backfired, said Kirill Benediktov in Izvestiya (Russia). Furious at the slight to a Latin American leader, three Latin American countries—Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia—have now offered Snowden asylum. These countries’ leaders all “have personal scores to settle with the U.S.” Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega was the leader of the leftist Sandinistas, who fought the U.S.-funded contras; Morales is smarting at U.S. accusations that he protects drug dealers; and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has blamed the U.S. for the death of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Snowden has become a catalyst for the tensions that have been smoldering in the Americas for years “between the left-leaning South and the imperialistic North.” Soon enough, one of those countries will find a way to stick it to the U.S. by parading Snowden around its capital.

Russia is already putting him to similar political use, said Mikhail Rostovsky in Moskovsky Komsomolets (Russia). The Kremlin is furious at the U.S. over the Magnitsky Act, which bans many Russian officials from traveling to the U.S. and using its banking structures. Ostensibly the U.S. passed the law to punish those it held responsible for the prison death of Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky. But in reality, Americans are cynically using the lawyer’s death “to get leverage over the political situation in Russia and reduce our ability in the international arena.” Now it’s the U.S. that “is in a stupid and humiliating position on the international stage.” In Snowden, “Moscow has found its anti-Magnitsky.”

That’s why President Vladimir Putin is only too happy to have him in Russia, said Marc Hujer in Der Spiegel (Germany). Protecting an American dissident from the American government is a great way to divert attention from Russia’s own repression, such as the trial on trumped-up charges of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Keeping Snowden in the spotlight focuses the world press on America’s ill treatment of its own dissidents, like Bradley Manning, the leaker of State Department cables. “The Russian government’s message is: Compared with what our American counterparts are getting up to, we’re choirboys.”

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