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US, Russia ties in the time of Snowden
July 22, 2013, 9:41 am

The situation around the fugitive American secret service contractor, Edward Snowden, is a sort of a miniature model of ‘Moscow-Washington relations’. Not too much love and a lot of malice.

Mr Snowden stays in the transit zone of a Moscow airport, while Russian officials are almost bending over backwards, trying to distance themselves from his crusade. “Russia does not extradite these kind of people, but no one, including Snowden, is allowed to pursue activity, which may damage Russian-American relations,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Snowden applied for temporary asylum in Russia on July 16th – a minimal legal status, which he apparently intends to keep only until he has a chance to travel safely to one of the Latin American countries. Even this status has, so far, not been given to Snowden by Russian authorities, a peace offering bid perhaps to the anti-Russia camp in Washington.

However, these facts do not impress American Senators Lindsey Graham and Charles Schumer, who suggested to the Senate to adopt a resolution penalising Russia for its “continued willingness to provide shelter to Snowden.” There is a high chance for this resolution to go ahead, since the desire to have Snowden back in the US for punishment has become a sort of idee fixe of the American elite.

snowden-slider [Xinhua]

“The desire to have Snowden back in the US for punishment has become a sort of idee fixe of the American elite” [Xinhua]

These impending resolutions will in no way be overshadowed by the fact that around 50 per cent of American citizens do not consider Snowden a traitor. “It is not a secret that the opinion of the population does not count for much in the United States,” notes Mark Adomanis, a political analyst writing for Forbes magazine and in Russia. An average American could have doubts about invading Iraq or aiding the Syrian opposition fighters, but the US government always knows best – and acts presumably in the interests of the above-mentioned average American without his or her prior consent.

The question is: how well advised this government’s decisions and perceptions are? In the Russian case, these decisions and perceptions are usually based on the ideas of the Western mainstream media (MSM) about Russia. And these ideas have been invariably negative and pessimistic at least since the early 1990s. In the case of Snowden, expectations are that he will be “used for propaganda purposes” (the French daily Le Monde) or “exchanged for another spy or criminal” (The Washington Post).

The fact that so far Putin has not set in motion either one of these two variants, does not discourage the American press or the American politicians.

Noted American journalist Stephen F Cohen is right when he says that the Snowden issue is “a test of leadership for both Putin and Obama”.

Putin’s statement that Russia-US relations should not be sacrificed to the intrigues of special services did not impress Washington. If Russians don’t do something bad, it is because they are up to something even worse, such is the logic of senators Schumer and Graham.

“It is past time we send a strong message to president Putin about Russia’s actions and this resolution will help accomplish this goal,” Graham said in a statement. The two even suggested to Obama that the G20 be shifted out of Russia this year if Snowden is not handed over to the US.


Putin’s statement that Russia-US relations should not be sacrificed to the intrigues of special services did not impress Washington, says Babich [AP]

The senator also put forth the idea that the United States could boycott the winter Olympic games scheduled to take place in the Russian city of Sochi in 2014.

Which ‘actions’ is Graham talking about? So far, there has only been ‘inaction’ on the Russian side – they did not arrest Snowden and did not deliver him to the United States. Doing this would actually contradict certain norms of international relations: even unsavoury characters are rarely extradited from civilised countries to states where these characters can face execution.

Meanwhile, according to Russian attorney Anatoly Kucherena, in his application for temporary asylum Snowden writes, “he is pursued by the American government and has reasons to be concerned for his life.” Even from a formal point of view, delivering a person from Russia, a country where capital punishment has not been applied since 1994, to the US, where the death penalty is widely used, would be preposterous. We are long past the times when the US could give lectures on ‘humanism’ to the totalitarian Soviet Union.

But the perceptions of US senators is firmly anchored in the times of the Cold war, where there can be no whistleblowers leaving the United States for Russia – just traitors. The same is true about perceptions of the mainstream media in the United States and the EU. There can be no states disagreeing with the United States – just “authoritarian regimes,” testing the patience of the American democracy. If this sort of attitude prevails in the US, their ‘Snowden problem’ will not see a solution anytime soon.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.