Wednesday, 26 June 2013

RUSSIA-U.S.: Edward Snowden's case

Prism informant Edward Snowden isn't planning on staying for long in Russia, but his presence there has been fodder for Moscow's anti-American rhetoric. Snowden is still stranded in transit zone of a Moscow Airport. Snowden now provides Moscow an opportunity to turn the tables. Moscow can present itself as the protector of a whistleblower who challenged America's powerful secret service and won fans around the globe by doing so.

Snowden's presence in Russia as a political refugee, however brief it is likely to be, is like manna from heaven for Moscow's anti-American rhetoric. The Kremlin, while insisting on Monday that it was unaware of any contact between Snowden and Russian authorities, is tired of constantly being lectured by the West on press freedoms and human rights. Finally, on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin clarified the matters regarding the ''whereabouts'' of the Prism informant, Edward Snowden.

“It is true that Snowden has arrived to Moscow, and it really came as a surprise for us. He arrived as a transit passenger, and didn't need a [Russian] visa, or any other documents. As a transit passenger he is entitled to buy a ticket and fly to wherever he wants,” Vladimir Putin said as he spoke to journalists in Finland.

The President also pointed out that there is no extradition treaty between Russia and the US, which makes it impossible to extradite people like Snowden. Washington again requested that Moscow expel Snowden on Tuesday, urging Russia to build upon its bilateral law enforcement cooperation with the US. Putin's refusal to hand back Snowden risked deepening a rift with the United States that has also drawn in China and threatens relations between countries that may be essential in settling global conflicts including the Syrian war.

There are a lot discrepancies in US-Russia accounts. First of all: How Edward Snowden could be staying more than 24 hours on transit zone of a Moscow Airport when Russian law requires travellers who spend more than 24 hours in the airport's transit area - as Snowden has done - to get a transit visa. This begs the question: Is he still there?

Secondly: The Geneva Convention, the body of legislations that regulates the right to seek asylum to foreign lands, for the reasons of fear of persecution on political grounds, stipulates that the asylum seeker must make an asylum claim as soon as he/she arrives to another country, signatory of the Geneva Convention. It is quite ambiguous that Edward Snowden would make a political asylum claim to Ecuador while in a Moscow transit zone. For instance, in the case of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, he fled to Ecuador's embassy in London and made his political asylum claim, within the meaning of the Geneva Convention. This justifies speculation that Snowden is longer at transit zone, he must be at Ecuador's embassy to make a political asylum or he is staying put in Russia.

Thirdly: Washington cannot pressure up Russia to extradite Edward Snowden because there is not an extradition treaty between the two. But also Russia has the right, under the Geneva Convention (Article 1A) to protect the Edward Snowden, for his fear of persecution, torture at the hands of US in any event that he is to be extradited to the US, only if he made an asylum claim in Russia.

Edward Snowden's saga becomes ''a political mambo-jumbo'' that seems to confirm the widespread perception that Russia hopes to profit from Snowden's short/long stay. Russia-American relations are in complicated phase. And when ties are in such phase, when one country undertakes hostile against another, why should the United States expect restraint and understanding from Russia?

China wanted to rid itself of Snowden, who had been staying in Hong Kong prior to flying to Russia, while Moscow has welcomed him comes as no surprise. The Snowden case shows the difference between Chinese and Russian approaches to the US. Beijing shies away from conflict while Moscow welcomes it. This became obvious in 2012 when Russia's state-funded English-language television network Russia Today gave Wikileaks-founder Assange his own talkshow even as Washington had issued a warrant for his arrest.

Moscow's enthusiasm for dissidents and whistleblowers is, however, strictly reserved for critics attacking Western-U.S. governments and their agencies. Journalist and environmentalist Grigory Pasko, who uncovered the fact that Russia's Pacific Fleet was dumping nuclear waste into the ocean, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2001 on charges of treason and espionage.

As a result, the number of whistleblowers in the country is limited. In 2011, narcotics officer Alexey Dymovsky was sent to prison for 42 days after revealing corruption within the Russian police force via YouTube. In early 2011, court clerk Natalia Vasilyeva revealed that the judge in the second trial against oligarch and Putin-critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky had not written the verdict himself, but had merely followed orders from above.

The situation for whistleblowers has not improved since then. At the end of 2012, the Duma strengthened laws for treason. According to the new law, Russians who work together with an international organization face up to four years in prison should that organization be seen as being engaged in "activities contrary to Russian security.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP: Edward Snowden speaking at Hong Kong