Wednesday, 3 July 2013

RUSSIA-U.S.: ''Snowden'': Neither here nor There

The fugitive National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, trapped in legal limbo in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, has requested asylum in over 20 countries. Many of them have already refused to consider his bids.

According to a statement on the WikiLeaks website, Snowden also applied for asylum in Russia, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Spain and Venezuela. All of these countries have noted that he cannot apply from abroad. Meanwhile Snowden has withdrawn his asylum application in Russia.

It must have been somewhat painful for Snowden to turn down asylum in Russia. Stranded for more than a week in a Moscow airport, the fugitive from U.S. justice seems to have few places left to hide.  But desperate as his situation has become, Snowden seems to have refused the one condition President Vladimir Putin set for granting him asylum: he refused to stop leaking the secrets of the U.S. government.

But Putin’s precondition has proved that his anti-Americanism  is a ''bluff''. Snowden's case has shown that his venom toward Washington is the act of a paper tiger, drawing political capital from the antagonisms of the Cold War. But he does not actually want to revive those antagonisms, certainly not for the sake of protecting a U.S. fugitive. At least in part, that is because Putin does not share the values that fugitive extols.

Has Snowden truly remained in Moscow voluntarily? Or was he perhaps forced to remain and is being interrogated? For Russian intelligence, Snowden's presence there is a unique opportunity to gain access to top-secret documents, or at least that is the suspicion being expressed out loud in the United States. Many now view the erstwhile hero as a traitor, because he is seeking out the wrong friends.

As long as Snowden stays cornered in the transit zone, Putin will also have no good options. Even granting him asylum unconditionally would not offer Putin much of an upside at this point. It would not be taken as a principled step because Russia has never truly defended Snowden’s principles. The only thing Russia has consistently defended on the world stage is its own sovereignty. The principle of noninterference in its own affairs. By that principle, it cannot bend to the U.S. demands to extradite Snowden. But neither, apparently, can it take the principled step of granting him asylum. Morally, then, Russia is stuck in a kind of limbo, somewhat like the legal limbo of Snowden’s life in the transit zone — neither here nor there.

Although Venezuela's President, N. Maduro seems to be offering safe haven possibility to Snowden, there are only four connections from Moscow to Venezuela, each with a layover: via Madrid, Miami, Amsterdam and Havana. The first three airports are out of the question for Snowden, and even Cuba has an extradition treaty with the United States -- and is currently trying to improve relations with its neighbor. In contrast to the 1970s, Cuba is no longer a safe haven for fugitives.

Now , Snowden appears to have three options left. The first is a private plane. The flight from Moscow to Venezuela or any Latin America , for that matter, would cost about $200,000 (€154,000), and the Russian authorities would have to approve Snowden's departure.

Snowden's father Lonnie proposes the second option: that his son surrenders to American authorities. Unlike WikiLeaks informant Bradley Manning, Snowden would be charged in a civilian and not a military court. And he could conceivably be acquitted if the court ruled that he did not commit treason. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, for example, received one year of probation for his disclosures.

The last option would be to seek refuge at the Venezuela Embassy in Moscow, but that would require Russia's permission. And then? Snowden would be stuck, just like Assange.

Assange has been stuck in London for more than a year now. Police officers are waiting outside the embassy to arrest him and extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault. His room at the embassy isn't much bigger than a jail cell. It contains a table, a few chairs, a bookshelf and a single bed. The room is so gloomy, Assange said, that he ordered a sun lamp to simulate natural sunlight. He also has a treadmill and receives occasional visits from a personal trainer. Otherwise, he spends his time watching old episodes of "The West Wing" and "Twilight Zone."

Assange runs the now divided organization from his temporary home at the embassy. But he hasn't had any scoops in a long time, now that the flow of leaks has dried up. The situation in London is slowly becoming hopeless, and escape seems impossible. Since Snowden exposed himself as a whistleblower, it has become clear to Assange that this is his chance to get back into the game, draw attention to his fate and put one over on America.

It seems most likely that Snowden will remain in Moscow for a while longer. His fate hangs on two thin threads: that a country allows him to pass through it without stopping him, and that he has the necessary travel documents. With each day that passes, Snowden is less of a hunter and more of a hunted man. It no longer appears to be his game, but a game controlled by other powers.

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

Photo-Credit: AFP: Edward Snowden