Edward Snowden is partly a free man. Having been granted temporary asylum in Russia, he is able to move around the country, although he is likely to remain under the close watch of the Kremlin. His current location is the subject of mystery because Snowden did not disclose where he was headed before leaving the Moscow airport on Thursday.
In Washington, politicians are outraged by the move by Moscow to grant the whistleblower asylum for one year. White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "We're extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and in private to have Mr. Snowden expelled to the United States to face the charges against him. We're evaluating the utility of a summit in light of this and other issues," he added.
Carney was referring to the upcoming G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, even though few seriously believe President Barack Obama will boycott the important meeting of the world's 20 most important industrial and emerging nations. They seem to be forgetting the fact that none of the world's major crises -- like Syria, the Middle East or Iran -- can be solved without Russia.
Although it is unlikely Obama will skip the G-20 summit on Sept. 5, some politicians are calling for it. Democrat Senator Charles Schumer on Thursday accused Russia of "stabbing us in the back" by granting temporary asylum. "Mr. Snowden is a coward who has chosen to run," Schumer said. "Given Russia's decision today, the president should recommend moving the G-20 summit."
Rarely since the end of the Cold War have relations between Moscow and Washington been as frosty as they are right now. A considerable amount of that is attributable to President Barack Obama's manic attempt to persuade Putin to extradite NSA expert and whistleblower Snowden. Obama, constantly alleged to be level-headed when it comes to his analysis, has failed to recognized that a power monger like Putin is far more important to international politics than NSA whistleblower Snowden.
The US president has made petty revenge a leading principle of his policies. Obama wanted Snowden to be extradited at any cost. Obama didn't hesitate in having his attorney general write a letter to Moscow with logic as follows: ''We Americans are even willing to forego our classic instruments of torture and the death penalty if you, the Russians, just extradite Snowden to us."
The letter couldn't have been more telling in terms of Obama's position towards unwelcome whistleblowers and possible betrayers of secrets. To expose himself to an ice cold Machiavelli like Putin with such a laughable position of self-revelation like that speaks volumes about the way in which Obama conducts foreign policy beyond his brilliant speeches.
If the US president now also commits the error of playing the role of the offended prima donna and not appearing at the G-20 summit in September, then we can forget about relations between Washington and Moscow altogether. That, in turn, would be disastrous for the flashpoints in this world -- regardless whether it will be Syria, Iran or the withdrawal of troops form Afghanistan, these crisis regions will all become even more incalculable without a minimum of Russian-American cooperation.
Moscow has now given the fleeing American asylum for one year, even though it could lead to considerable tensions with the US. The Kremlin actually wanted to keep that from happening, which is why it had constantly argued that Snowden had not even entered onto Russian soil after his landing. But Russia is used to pressure from the West, and the advantages of the step are obvious to Moscow. The country can now present itself as the defender of a civil rights campaigner who is threatened in his home country with the severest of penalties. In other words, it allows Russia to reverse roles -- America becomes the bad guy and it is the West that is criticized for its obsessive spying.
Edward Snowden knocked on many doors in recent weeks. There were plenty of expressions of sympathy for the young man who, with his betrayal of secrets, shed light on the scope of American spying programs. But despite all the excitement over the obsessive spying, no one wanted to open the door for Snowden.
Now, it is Vladimir Putin of all people who has taken blatant pleasure in playing the role of a champion of freedom of opinion and human rights by letting the American stay in Russia for a year. But it's also the same Putin who has taken considerable pleasure in taking political opponents out of action with flimsy charges. Alexei Navalny, the most prominent of them, was just sentenced to five years in a prison camp. His offense? He exposed corruption in the Russian authorities and at state-owned companies
Everything has its price. That applies to temporary asylum for Edward Snowden in Putin's Russia as well. In intelligence circles, one has to deliver something in order to get something in return. The most valuable thing in Snowden's suitcase were the NSA's secrets. No one knows better how to use them than the comrades on the opposite side. It is believed that Snowden will be helping up Russia Intelligence Agency.
So far it remains an open question whether Snowden will go down in the history of the intelligence services as a hero who wanted to protect the world from incursion from some Internet monster or whether he is just a self-important person in the parallel universe of cyberspace and a betrayer of national security.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs Analyst
Photo-Credit: AFP-Edward Snowden