By granting a yearly and renewable asylum to Edward Snowden, Vladimir Putin has challenged President Barack Obama. He has made it clear that the famous “reset” button with Russia, signed onto and endorsed by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of State, meant only that the United States would allow Russia to get away with what it wanted in international affairs as long as Putin’s authority was not challenged.
Russia would continue to aid its Syrian ally, no matter what “red lines” were crossed, and all the United States would do is urge Russia to act differently. Naturally, Vladimir Putin took our complaints into advisement and went about his merry ways.
After dilly-dallying for weeks about whether or not Russia would give Snowden asylum — and actually saying that he wished he would leave — President Putin reached his decision. Snowden is now welcome, as long as any job he takes does not involve computers. Knowing his skills, the last thing the Russian regime wants is for Mr. Snowden to infiltrate its secret programs the way he did for his country of birth, where he remains a citizen.
Remember that when he first arrived in Hong Kong, Snowden proclaimed that he did not want to live in any country that conducted the kind of surveillance he said the United States was carrying out on its citizens: “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.” That attitude gained him supporters among the anti-American Left and the libertarian Right, both attuned to violations of civil liberties by the omnipresent State. Many called him not a traitor, but rather a whistle-blower.
Now we have hard evidence that Edward Snowden’s great concern for individual liberty and the protection of the rights of individuals from government intrusion is nothing but a ruse he used to gather support. If it was not, the last place on Earth he would take refuge is current-day Russia.
This is a government pledged with new legislation to round up and imprison gay people, that regularly fabricates charges against those brave enough to expose the regime’s corruption, and that arrests others for the crime of public opposition to the Putin government’s growing power.
Mr. Snowden actually announced that he wanted to be a “human rights activist,” by which he obviously means releasing more information harmful to the United States, whose supposed violations of human rights seem to be the only rights violations he cares about. Let him try to say something about the members of Pussy Riot still rotting in jail, and see how long his asylum status will remain intact.
A shrewd analysis of what lies behind Russia’s new strong anti-gay laws appears by Miriam Elder in Buzzfeed. Elder argues:
The violent images, restrictive legislation, and public humiliation that LGBT people in Russia now face isn’t the product of a traditionalist backlash as much as it is a vital part of the new politics of Putin’s Russia, a nation in search of someone to define itself against.
In the old days, Soviet Russia made Jews the scapegoat. On that front, for personal reasons, Putin himself has sought to engage other enemies, leaving gays as the replacement for old-style official Soviet anti-Semitism. When Putin assumed the presidency again late last year, Elder explains:
[His reaction] has been reflexive and obvious to everyone — to launch a crackdown, arrest opposition leaders, arrest average protesters, adopt laws limiting future ability to protest. The second is more oblique: Putin has launched a campaign to shore up support in the Russian “heartland,” that mythical place far from the bustling streets of Moscow where headscarved peasants embrace core Russian concepts that don’t actually exist anymore.
Demonizing gays allows Putin to tell the “heartland”: I will protect you and your “traditional” families; you are the real Russia. It also grows suspicion of the liberal opposition, presented as fundamentally “un-Russian” as they stand up increasingly for gay rights amid Putin’s growing crackdown.