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Snowden’s Russia bid is a ‘good start to a complicated situation’
July 16, 2013, 7:56 pm

Snowden's presence in Russia has stirred a media frenzy, much like Cold War defections, says Babich [AP]

Snowden’s presence in Russia has stirred a media frenzy, much like Cold War defections, says Babich [AP]

Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistle-blower who leaked classified information to the media, has officially submitted his bid for temporary asylum in Russia, but analysts say his ordeal is far from over.

Legal experts have told The BRICS Post that Snowden’s application could take some time to be reviewed. According to influential Russian attorney Anatoly Kucherena, who consulted Snowden on the matter at the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, the process could take as long as three months.

This could prove to be a complication for Russian President Vladimir Putin who has called for the Snowden affair to be resolved quickly.

On July 1, Putin said Snowden could stay in Russia provided he “stop his work directed at hurting our American partners”. Snowden has signaled he would comply with such requirements.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told Russian media that issues of temporary asylum do not fall under the president’s jurisdiction, but are the responsibility of the Federal Migration service.

‘A complicated situation’

Peter Lavelle, host of Russia Today’s CrossTalk, told The BRICS Post that the Snowden asylum process is a good start to a very complicated situation.

“Snowden is resigning himself to stay in a country (Russia) out of necessity and not of choice. His wait for temporary asylum could still take a few months. Russia would (very much) like him to move on to a third country,” Lavelle said.

Despite Moscow exhibiting flexibility, Washington is likely to continue to fume. US officials say that Snowden still has in his possession information which could undermine the country’s security.

Lavelle believes that Putin’s position on Snowden is a rare compromise, considering his strident defense of Russia’s geopolitical interests, and that he is allowing almost all to save face.

“Putin has made it clear that Russian foreign policy with the West will not be had hostage to Snowden’s future prospects. The next step is Washington’s. Putin has shown flexibility, will [US President Barack] Obama? In the meantime, Snowden would be well advised to starting learning Spanish,” Lavelle said.

Last week, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua had offered Snowden asylum. It is unknown how long he will remain in Russia and/or whether one of these countries will be his ultimate destination.

Strained relations?

Snowden’s presence in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23, coupled with Putin’s position that Moscow will not extradite him to the US, has complicated relations with Washington.

Relations between the two former rivals have already been strained by their different approaches to resolving the Syrian civil war.

The irony of the situation, however, is not lost on Dmitry Babich, a political commentator for the Voice of Russia.

“Snowden’s saga in Russia is presenting the US and Russian Cold War roles in reverse: in the 20th century, it was usually the US that harbored “political refugees” from the former Soviet Union, not vice versa,” Babich told The BRICS Post.

“In the 1990s, the old Soviet problem of Moscow not allowing its citizens to leave for the US (“the Iron Curtain”) was replaced by America’s reluctance to give visas to Russians willing to travel to the US (“the paper curtain”),” added Babich.

The Snowden affair reflects these platforms in miniature. An American whistle-blower arrives in Russia and says he is not an enemy of his country but opposes the government’s abuse of power.

“This was the mantra used by former Russian dissidents,” says Babich. “And now we have Russian authorities’ reluctance to give him status, even a temporary one.”

At the height of the Cold War, defections were major selling points for newspapers, and attracted human rights activists. The Snowden affair appears to have fallen into the same pattern; last week, more than 200 reporters descended on Sheremetyevo airport as the former CIA contractor met with human rights representatives in a closed meeting.

When they emerged, a media frenzy was set off when they were mobbed by dozens of cameras and journalists hoping to write home about the Snowden affair.

The BRICS Post with additional reporting by Daria Chernyshova in Moscow, Russia