Russian Hospitality: Why Snowden Picked Moscow as His Transit Point

It seems Moscow is a safe enough place for whistle-blowers to seek some respite, however temporary

  • Share
  • Read Later
BOBBY YIP / REUTERS

Photos of Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency, printed on the front pages of local English- and Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong on June 11, 2013

Updated: June 24, 11:30 a.m.

When the pilot announced his plane’s descent toward Moscow on Sunday, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, one of the most wanted men in the U.S., would have had reason to be both nervous and relieved. There are not many countries left on the planet where he can safely set foot since he leaked a trove of secrets from the National Security Agency in the past weeks. But at least as a transit point, Russia was likely a reliable bet. It has no extradition treaty with Washington, and Snowden would not be the first Western whistle-blower to get a bit of help in Russia.

In 2001, the first full year of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, Richard Tomlinson, a former officer of the British foreign-intelligence service MI6, was looking to publish a memoir laced with secrets. British authorities tried hard to keep his revelations under wraps, even sentencing him to a year in prison for exposing official secrets when he sent his manuscript around to publishers. He served five months of that sentence in 1997. But after his release, a fly-by-night firm in Moscow — which had all the outward trappings of a front for the Russian security services — agreed to print his memoir; it was the only book that publisher ever released. Titled The Big Breach, Tomlinson’s work alleged many embarrassing things about the British intelligence services, including plans to kill foreign leaders like Muammar Gaddafi and Slobodan Milosevic.

His book was, however, not nearly as damaging to British intelligence services as Snowden’s revelations have been for their U.S. counterparts in the past month. In sharing top-secret documents with the Guardian and the Washington Post, Snowden exposed a vast surveillance and data-gathering program that U.S. spy agencies have been carrying out for years on millions of U.S. citizens.

Initially, he fled to Hong Kong, which does have an extradition treaty with the U.S., but decided to keep running after the Justice Department on June 21 formally charged the 30-year-old with espionage and theft of government property — charges that each carry up to 10 years in prison.

Russian authorities insisted that they were not informed beforehand of Snowden’s intention to fly to Moscow, and that technically he never entered Russian territory. He has not cleared passport control at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. Instead, officials from Ecuador, where Snowden is seeking asylum, came to meet with him inside the international terminal — a sort of extraterritorial limbo. And it certainly seemed to be a quick layover: on Monday morning, Snowden was booked aboard an Aeroflot flight to Havana, Cuba, thought to be a stopover en route to his predicted final destination. But a throng of journalists who stood vigil at the gate in Moscow and later boarded the plane hoping for a glimpse of the leaker were greeted by the empty 17A seat which had been registered to Snowden. The missed flight leaves his current whereabouts a mystery, but he appears to be taking his cues from the world’s most famous whistle-blowing organization, WikiLeaks.

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has for months been dodging arrest at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, and his assistant was reportedly chaperoning Snowden on his flight from Hong Kong to Moscow on Sunday. The involvement of WikiLeaks also helps explain the choice of Russia as a transit point. Assange, after months of isolation last year, got some badly needed help and exposure from the Russian state news network RT, which offered him a television show to host.

The choice of Russia did come with some risks for Snowden, albeit minor ones. Sergei Bout, the brother of convicted international arms trafficker Viktor Bout, called on Sunday for Snowden to be arrested and swapped for his brother, who is serving a lengthy sentence in a U.S. prison. But as eager as Russian authorities have been to bring Viktor Bout home, they did not give any official support to Sergei Bout’s madcap suggestion. Instead, they made clear Snowden had no reason to fear arrest in Russia. “Snowden does not have any international warrants for his arrest,” a source in the Russian security services told Itar-Tass news agency. “He has not passed customs, so he has not formally crossed the border.”

That last point could have been a hint at the limits of Russian hospitality — if he does cross the border, the picture could change. But for now, it seems Moscow is a safe enough place for whistle-blowers to seek some respite, however temporary.

This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Snowden failed to show up for his Monday morning flight to Havana.

Soldatov is a journalist in Moscow and a co-author of The New Nobility, a history of Russian security services in the era following the Soviet Union’s collapse

63 comments
maigual
maigual

@TIMEWorld Why did he choose a country like Ecuador where journalists are in exile or in jail and there is no freedom of speech.

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

Hi My name is Edward Snowden. The American Government violates the Privacy of its Citizens. They spy on their citizens. I'm going to go to China and Russia and Cuba because they are the epitome of Governments who NEVER SPY on their citizens. Who have GREAT human right records on its citizens. Unlike America who persecutes their Music Groups for Hooliganism, these Countries allow for people to Freely express their thoughts on government...hahahahahahahahahaha

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

Dear American Citizen,

The Government does not care about what you are talking about in your phone messages or email.  You are not that important for them to care about you talking about what your kids did last week.  They do not care about you talking about the sporting event you saw last week.  Quit acting like you are violated becuase you are not a threat, you mean nothing to the government. 

Thanks

paul.abbotson
paul.abbotson

William O. Douglas a formerUS Supreme Courtjudgewrote: “I do not know any salvationfor Society except through eccentrics, misfits, dissenters, people who protest” Please readMr Obama and Mr. Erdogan

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

You know when I was a kid and McArthy reigned and I led 3 lives was one of the best shows on television, every "American" everywhere would be looking for this "Traitor" not just to turn him in, but to lynch him in the streets.

Now, it's not nearly so clear cut, most of what he has revealed has simply pointed out how our own Government has been abusing  - US!, the citizens of the United States.

By now it should be clear to almost any sentient human being that the secrecy isn't working for us, but against us, allowing Government and special interests and corrupt institutions to erode and destroy the very fabric of the thing they helped build in the first place.

Sot the fact is, the "Whistleblower" isn't the "Traitor", it is those pursuing him.


1989072600
1989072600

I think that the Moscow is Snowden's asylum.

Patriotone
Patriotone

"His book was, however, not nearly as damaging to British intelligence services as Snowden’s revelations have been for their U.S. counterparts in the past month. In sharing top-secret documents with the Guardian and the Washington Post, Snowden exposed a vast surveillance and data-gathering program that U.S. spy agencies have been carrying out for years on millions of U.S. citizens."

How is that revealing unknown facts and liberties the government is taking in collecting information on millions of US citizens is damaging?   I would consider this information a reminder to any government that we Americans live in the land of freedom and not in a Big Brother State.

paulgeorges
paulgeorges

The USA play the witch's apprentice as Mickey failing to control his power let brushes raged all alone and lead to catastrophe.But the true witch comes to putting things in their place at least.Destroyed democracy in Iran in 1953, Chile in 1973, Central and South America, Vietnam War, Iraq ........ Iran tomorrow?             http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYutojeC5Kk

René_Martin
René_Martin

The US government ought to give Mr. Snowden a medal for exposing the unlawful behaviour of the NSA.

AJH_IRL
AJH_IRL

@AineKerr Just thinking, do Aeroflot still do the Shannon stopover? There's a headache Eamon Gilmore could do without!

AlbertAdenuga
AlbertAdenuga

@TIME I guess he taught it wise to choose a non-US-friend territory where diplomatic exchanges are rough and not cordial.

oajim47
oajim47

@JorgeBenezra Donde estara la PATRIA SEGURA porque de Miranda a Maderero no se cumple con las ordenanzas Municipales Pasen x la Av BARALT

forkbeard4
forkbeard4

@maigual @TIMEWorld  

So what are the names of these journalists in exile and why are they in exile?

How many political prisoners are there currently in Ecuador?

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

@Realworldnonfantasyland 

Yes isn't it a shame that the hypocrisy of our own, of the people, by the people and for the people government is now pursuing one of its own citizens so doggedly for exposing it's own corruption that he is now forced to seek refuge among even worse (or at least as bad as) governments as the one he must now leave.

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@GaryRMcCray How many citizens do you know who have been abused by the American government?  Quit with the Holier than thou Government stuff.  Don't you think in the world of Twitter and instant Social networking that if some Citizen was abused by the Big BAD American government, that it would've spread from the abused to a small group of people to a big group of people to the national media. 

AnthonyAnderson
AnthonyAnderson

@Patriotone We USED TO live in the land of freedom.  Now it really IS a Big Brother State.  Snowden exposed the criminals and their cronies scattered throughout government -- all 3 branches.   Time will tell if we can turn it back into the land of freedom.  One of the challenges is to make Congress part of the solution instead enabling the problem. 

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@juliana_doupe @marklittlenews @AineKerr 

Gray Goose Vodka is a French product developed by an American for the American market.  He can do much better with high quality Russian vodka.  Your comment just caught my eye and curiosity.

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@GaryRMcCray @Realworldnonfantasyland One of its own citizens who worked for the People by the people and for the peoples government and then exposed the nation of his citizens that he worked for to threats by exposing government sercets.  Quit with your "hypocrisy".  I absolutely hate when people act like the American Government is crap.  Go do some historical research and tell me that the American Government is corrupt.  We live in the best place in the history of the world at the present time. 

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

Its not right that people want to fly planes into buildings and blow up people in this country either.  Which would you rather have? 

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@AnthonyAnderson @Patriotone hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah. We USED to live in the Land of the Free. Black people couldn't drink out of the same water fountains that I could not 500 years ago, but 50 years ago. Keep thinking that the Government gives a damn what you talk about on the phone with your buddy or the email that you sent about what your family is doing this weekend. Hahahahaha

culleyetc
culleyetc

British intelligence services allegedly planned to assassinate foreign leaders incl Muammar Gaddafi & Slobodan Milosevic (1) @JoakimNoahBuzz

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@forkbeard4 @RealworldnonfantasylandOf Course FDR said that later, his 15 years on the job didn't really do anything and he needed a war to help him out.  WW2 was good for the country?  For the 484,000 American families who lost their kids?  Are you nuts?  

Britain was begging us to get into WW2.  And we waited until Germany got way to far into it and let it become a much bigger mess. 

What do you know about  Halabja in March 1988.  Was that a lie?  I don't get this one.  You say freedom is not free, and then say that we were lied into thinking that this was good for them. If Obama gassed texas because they are heavily against him, would that not be worth helping them?  I guess not 

forkbeard4
forkbeard4

@Realworldnonfantasyland  

I see your source of history is the comic book. Hitler never did say he wanted to take over anything, just the opposite. It was England, France Russia and America that said just let him be; he has legitimate grievances over Sudetenland, Bohemia and France. Let us compromise and hope for the best. FDR knew he could never get a declaration of war on Germany,that is why he had to wait for Pearl Harbor. As he (FDR) said later, war was good for the country, America that is.  It pulled us right out of the great Recession

You also apparently don't know that Saddam was a friend and Allie of America in his war with Iran. We had an embassy there; our ambassador was asked by  Saddam if we cared if he invaded Kwait. We told him no, but then we turned right around and chased him out when it was clear he was going to cut off an important oil shipping port. Look it up, the New York Times reported the story, there were Senate committee hearings, etc.

So Saddam was our friend, we sold him arms and munitions, as long as he did as he was told. When he decided he would exercise independent judgment we were fed the lie that he had weapons of mass destruction by no less a person than Colin Powell. Mr. Powell as since stated openly, on PBS for instance that he was misled. The US army has never stated anywhere they found anything approximating weapons of mass destruction.  No matter, we set up a puppet government, promptly sold oil leases (made irrevocable by the Iraq government enabling document by the way), built permanent military fortresses and have been trying to sell the American public on the idea that some how war was good for them.  God help we never have such benefactors.

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

So wait "If you sit around believing that somehow everything will work out if you just leave the evil-doers alone"  and then "The poor Iraqis who found themselves the target on an invasion sold to the American public on deceit and official falsehoods" 

So which one is it.  We let Hitler say he wanted to take over Europe, he wanted to exterminate a breed of people living in Europe.  Americans sat back and let it work itself out and he took over Europe until hero FDR did something about it.  Saddam said he wanted to take over the Middle East, killed a breed of his own people with a Weapon of Mass Destruction(i know i know, we don't believe Saddam had Weapons of mass destruction, besides the simple fact that he did in fact use it), had government officials kill other government officials simply because they were against Saddam, but our government did something about it, and it took a hell of a lot less lives to stop a man hell bent on taking over the world than it did in WWII when FDR and the American government did sit on their hands. 


forkbeard4
forkbeard4

@Realworldnonfantasyland  

No Mr. NSA spy, you have it exactly backwards. It is not a matter of accepting degrees of corruption or "evilness" as you like to call it. We get the form of government we deserve. If you sit around believing that somehow everything will work out if you just leave the evil-doers alone, believe me you are a long ways away from intelligent and further away from any conception of democratic freedom. We have freedoms because we are willing to stand up for them and demand that evil stop. The Germans learned that in 1932, belatedly. The Romans never learned that because they were willing to sacrifice self-government for dictatorship (they too wanted to be safe). The Russians learned that in October 1917 when a small group took over the whole of government while the whole of the country sat on their hands and did nothing to stop it. The poor Iraqis who found themselves the target on an invasion sold to the American public on deceit and official falsehoods. Now we have somebody ready to expose the lies and falsehoods and we have people like you saying leave it alone, it is not so bad, it might get better.  Halleulia for America!  I would have suggested you wake up, but maybe you just better go back to sleep.

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

@Realworldnonfantasyland @GaryRMcCray 

I worked for the government too, the hypocrisy is not mine, but that very same government and as long as they are abetted by witting ignorance, what have they got to fear.

I guess you work for them now.

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

Yea I'm an NSA spy. I was listening to your phone conversation last weekend because you are that important. Actually I'm just intelligent not living in some fantasy world who thinks that everything will take care of itself. I'm sure anyone who complains about the spying also complained that not enough was done to prevent 9/11.

Does the Roman Government mean anything to you? They crucified people who opposed their government. What about the German Government in the early 1900's. Or the Russian Government in all its history. Or the Iraqi government or the Chinese Government or the Cuban Government or the Church or has the American Government trumped all of them in evilness.

And by the way, you will always be able to find bad apples no matter what you do. We are Animals and animals are all with fault. Its just about being as close to no fault as possible.

forkbeard4
forkbeard4

@Realworldnonfantasyland @GaryRMcCray  

Realworldnonfantasyland:   So what planet have you been living on all these years? Do the names Boss Tweed, Richard J. Daley, the mayors of Detroit, the mayor of New Orleans, etc etc. mean anything to you? Or the name Ronald Reagan, whose attorney general went to prison, his chief of the National  Security Council (Ollie North by name) who was indicted for theft of government property, who also at one time had around 31 members of his cabinet and administration indicted or in prison. The same president who openly violated US law selling military equipment to conduct a secret illegal war in Central America? The history of the United States is the history of corruption- or are you just a moron?

Actually you sound more like one of those people who are paid by the US government to write mis- and disinformation in the media to white wash its conniving.

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@justbernal @Realworldnonfantasyland Why is the American government going to drone you to death?  Please educate me on that one.  Are they really interested in someone who causes no harm to anyone.  Maybe gets into a fight here or there.  Talks a little crap about the government, but nothing to cause a threat.  Are you really really that scared and think that is what government is here to do? 

Golf is a boring sport, we should deny the rights of people to play it.  I would be for government doing that. 

justbernal
justbernal

@Realworldnonfantasyland That is not what I was saying at all actually, and you seem to have a knack, like many in this country, for hearing the parts you want to hear but blocking out the parts you do not. The point isn't in that the government is doing this for "the greater good" it's that once you give up some rights then you start a snowball effect. It has been seen in countless countries over history and if you think that it cannot happen here then you're incredibly naive and just the kind of person the government likes. 

We have allowed U.S. citizens to be wire tapped, email tracked, and even killed with our own drones that we pay tax dollars for them to commission. 

Do you know that more U.S citizens are killed per year by golf balls than by terrorists attacks? How many supposed "terrorists" have we actually caught by listening to our own citizens communications? Please, educate me. 

You seem to be the type of persona who always does what your told under the guise of national security. What happens when the government continues to push and push until we become a totalitarian society? 

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

  "Here's an crazy idea: grow a pair and realize that freedom isn't free. There are inherent risks to having freedom and if you're not willing to die to preserve absolute freedom then you don't belong in this country"

Absolute Freedom:  I can marry whomever I want(Yes yes I'm straight, I know that others cannot and that should be fixed).  I can work any job I want.  I can drive across state boarders whenever I want.  I can talk to whomever I want.  I can do nothing if I want.  I can work 24 hours a day if I want.  I can spend money on whatever I want.  I can flip the president off whenever I want.  I have the absolute freedom to do whatever I want. 

Now if you are telling me that government is trying to make sure some crazy  religious fanatics are not going to try to kill me by a bomb and all I have to do is not say in a phone call or email that I want to blow up someone or something and I will be left alone and never know that anything has been looked at with me, then please, by all means, sign me up. 



justbernal
justbernal

You act as though the two are mutually exclusive and if we do not track millions of U.S. citizens then suddenly something will blow up. Get real here. The terrorists won and that is not an opinion, it's a fact. Terrorism isn't some existential threat from some evil organization, it's a tactic that uses fear (the fear that has very clearly warped your, and the government's mind) to bring about political, religious, or social changes. Take a look at how much this country has changed since 9/11. We gave up many of the rights that the U.S. stood for. We are by far one of the largest modern failures in keeping our word to our own citizens. Sure there have been many countries "worse" than us, but does that give our government the excuse to begin the slippery slope towards them? The terrorists did in fact accomplish their goal and it's because of cowards like you who let fear control their lives and give up your values. Here's an crazy idea: grow a pair and realize that freedom isn't free. There are inherent risks to having freedom and if you're not willing to die to preserve absolute freedom then you don't belong in this country, much less be one of the jackos trying to mold it into a Big Brother state.

Mr. Snowden is an American patriot, doing what he felt was necessary to protect our freedoms, not a traitor.

JoakimNoahBuzz
JoakimNoahBuzz

@culleyetc Those allegations are serious. Imagine what goes on inside a country's intelligence service agencies....