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.
Coming from the United States and its liberal culture — a nation whose culture and people are the opposite of the bigoted groups that Putin appeals to and encourages to gain support — Edward Snowden would, if free to act as he pleases, oppose and speak out against the new Putin policies. But now he is filled with praise for the Russian government and Putin’s decision to give him asylum, and his claim to be for “human rights” evaporates quickly as he allows himself to be a mouthpiece for the reprehensible actions of the government whose hospitality he now enjoys.
How, then, is the administration acting now that Vladimir Putin has made his intentions most clear? So far, all we have is the abysmal statement by Jay Carney:
We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful request … Mr. Snowden is not a whistleblower — he is accused of leaking classified information.
Contrast Carney’s mild putdown with the reaction of New York’s liberal Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who said: “Russia’s stabbed us in the back and every day that Snowden is allowed to be free they twist the knife further.” Schumer went on to say that he thinks the scheduled G-20 meeting, at which Obama is set to attend and meet with Putin before it begins, should be held elsewhere than Russia. John McCain went even further, saying we should “fundamentally rethink our relations with Putin’s Russia,” and step up advocacy of human rights and civil liberties in Russia, accelerate missile defense programs, and expand NATO so that it includes the republic of Georgia.
The Obama administration, as we know, is not going to adopt Senator McCain’s proposals, nor even accept those of its ally Senator Schumer. It is planning to go ahead and take part in the G-20 meeting in Russia, although it might cancel the planned meeting with Putin. If it does not cancel this, the wily Russian president will again publicly humiliate Obama.
So Edward Snowden is a free man in Moscow, living in what is most likely a fine Russian apartment (by their standards) and eventually being given a job to his liking, in which he can continue to secretly meet with Soviet intelligence and give them whatever other U.S. secrets he holds, which will assure that his hosts continue to show him fine hospitality.
I look forward to hearing just how Mr. Snowden will fill out his days in Moscow as a human rights advocate.