Putin to Offer Snowden Asylum, but With a Catch

Russian President would insist that the NSA whistle-blower ceases divulging U.S. state secrets as part of any deal

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ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP / Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to journalists at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 1, 2013. Putin said that his country had never extradited anyone before and added that U.S. leaker Edward Snowden could remain in Russia if he stopped issuing his leaks

On Sunday night, Edward Snowden asked for political asylum in Russia, and in a matter of hours President Vladimir Putin agreed to grant it. But there was just one catch: the NSA whistle-blower had to hang up his whistle. “If he wants to stay here, there is one precondition,” Putin said on Monday, a few hours before Snowden’s asylum request was made public. “He has to stop doing work that is aimed at harming our American partners.”

In other words, no more leaks. Whatever secrets Snowden has left to expose would have to be locked away (except maybe for a private Kremlin showing) and the stream of revelations he has got from his work for U.S. intelligence agencies would have to stop. On Putin’s part, this proposal is a clever bit of brinkmanship, but it will hardly please everyone — or anyone — involved.

(MORE: Snowden and Putin: U.S. Whistle-Blower’s Fate Is in Russian President’s Hands)

Crucially, the U.S. would not get the satisfaction of putting Snowden on trial for espionage, as it has been trying to do ever since he went on the run in May. And Washington is not likely to let the matter drop — it would become a permanent thorn in U.S.-Russian relations.

But that is a reality Putin seems willing to face. In his remarks on Monday, he went so far as to compare Snowden to Andrei Sakharov, the most famous dissident and rights activist in Soviet history. Earlier that day, the Russian political establishment began falling into line behind him. At a meeting of the Public Chamber, an advisory body to the Kremlin, everyone from lawmakers and spin doctors to senior Russian diplomats hailed Snowden as a hero who needs the motherland’s protection. “If he asks for political asylum, we must provide it,” said Robert Shlegel, a parliamentarian from Putin’s political party. Another one of the party’s lawmakers, Alexander Sidyakin, even pledged to nominate Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize.

One of Snowden’s most vocal supporters at the meeting was a former officer of the Russian intelligence services, Kirill Kabanov, who now sits on the Kremlin’s human-rights council. Speaking to TIME afterward, he went so far as to welcome the existence of whistle-blowers everywhere, a rare position for a veteran of the secret police. “They’re like a nice bloodletting,” he says, referring to Snowden and other whistle-blowers. “They lead to better health.” Never mind that Moscow goes after its leakers with no less gusto than Washington — Snowden has brought whistle-blowing into style in Russia. He is the hero of the hour.

(MORE: Snowden’s Hong Kong Escape: Behind the Role That Beijing Played)

The main question now is whether he will accept Putin’s precondition for asylum. Having been stuck in the purgatory of a Moscow airport for more than a week, Snowden’s position seems desperate enough to take the deal. Over the weekend, his best shot at political asylum fell through when the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, said Snowden’s fate was now in Moscow’s hands.

But for Snowden, it may not be as easy as destroying his hard drives full of secrets and finding a cottage in the Russian countryside. Julian Assange, the founder of the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks, has said Snowden’s revelations are now on autopilot. “There is no stopping the publishing process at this stage,” Assange, who has been helping Snowden find safe haven, told ABC on Sunday. “Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can’t be pressured by any state to stop the publication process.”

If that’s the case, Putin’s asylum offer may have come with a false bottom — he would be able to revoke it if Snowden’s revelations continue to be published. At his press conference on Monday, Putin suggested as much. “Since [Snowden] sees himself as a rights activist, a defender of human rights, it seems he has no intention of stopping his work. So he needs to pick a country and make his way over there,” Putin said. “When that will happen, unfortunately, I have no idea.”

One option — perhaps the last remaining one for Snowden — could be Venezuela, whose President, Nicolás Maduro, is now in Moscow for talks with Putin. Russian media have speculated that he could whisk Snowden away to Caracas. On Monday, Assange’s WikiLeaks website published a statement ostensibly written by Snowden himself, in which the American accused the Obama Administration of wielding “the old, bad tools of political aggression” — a phrase that echoes the anti-imperialist hectoring of Maduro’s mentor, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. But wherever Snowden ends up, the whistle-blower is winning a lot of supporters in Russia and around the world, and the U.S. is losing them just as fast.

MORE: On the Run to Moscow, Edward Snowden Keeps Americans Guessing

18 comments
truthteat
truthteat

lol ...because it would also expose the truth about the US and Russia working closely to sow mayhem and discontent in the Islamic world.

JonathanYu
JonathanYu

Snowden has no other place to go after he rejected Putin's offer.  No other country will take him.  He is living in a James Bond fantasy.  

Whatintheworld
Whatintheworld

@JonathanYu  You really believe these articles don't you. Putin said he would "NOT" turn Snowden over to the USA. Most of the World is in an uproar because the USA tapped the E.U. offices. Snowden can go to any country he likes and will not be returned to the USA. Don't believe the nonsense that he has nowhere to go. 

MJS917
MJS917

Democracy Now! has been featuring some great in-depth coverage of this story. Today -- right after Snowden released his first public statement requesting asylum -- they interview WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson. You can watch all of the segments covering the NSA and Edward Snowden here: http://www.democracynow.org/topics/nsa

meddevguy
meddevguy

"No more leaks to the press!". But to Russia, OK, we'll listen.

modera
modera

Snowden is a naive young man who lived too much of his life on the internet and fantasy novels. Real world actions have real world consequences, and I suspected that never resonated with him. Reality is now setting in and Snowden is scrambling.  

Conscientious objectors of the past, like MLK, Gandhi, Mandela, all understood the consequences of their action and accepted it. They understood the objection to one law is not an excuse to break another.  All three spent significant time in jail but was ultimately redeemed.

I don't know how far the NSA has gone and to what extent they have abused our privacy, but I do know that Snowden is no hero.  A hero would return, in defiance, and let a jury of his peers decide.  A hero would make all this about the greater good, not about his personal welfare.  No, he's just a boy with his computer thinking life is just a game.

truthteat
truthteat

@modera yeah he should return after releasing all the info on the internet.

GCL1
GCL1

@modera

"MLK, Gandhi, Mandela, all understood the consequences of their action and accepted it. They understood the objection to one law is not an excuse to break another."

Wrong. All three did break the law. MLK broke the law with his Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gandhi broke the law several times, not least by defying the British and making salt in violation of the 1882 British Salt Act. Mandela, during his early years was a member of the South African Communist Party, and advocated violent, armed resistance against the Apartheid regime under the ANC of the early 1960's which would probably be called a "terrorist organization" today.

I am not condemning either MLK, Gandhi, or Mandela; I'm merely setting their achievements in their correct perspective.

You suffer from selective amnesia and are using that to support entrenched personal biases against someone whose personal valor and individual sacrifices you cannot comprehend. It is no small achievement to give up a cushy life, a well paying job, an attractive girlfriend and stand up for what you believe in against a superpower like the United States - a nation you are born into.

GCL1
GCL1

@modera (contd from above)

Just as President Obama once distinguished between a "smart war" on terror and a "dumb war", Snowden has distinguished between "smart resistance" to excessive government intrusion into individual privacy and a "dumb resistance" to it. Nothing would have been solved or achieved by his remaining in the US; on the contrary, Snowden would have been arrested without due process, and his cause would have been harmed. 

Several other NSA whistleblowers from the past like Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe who were openly ignored, reviled, mocked, and had to face a hostile US government have openly praised Snowden on television interviews. The leaker of the famed Pentagon Papers from 1971 that exposed the extent of US involvement in Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg has also openly praised Snowden for his courageous act. It bears mentioning that Ellsberg himself was once charged by the US government under the 1913 Espionage Act, tried, exonerated by mistrial, and subsequently redeemed and vindicated by history.

The only difference between then and now is that the average if well-intentioned American (like you) appears considerably dumbed down and smugger.

GCL1
GCL1

@craigvan 

He's rescinded his Russian asylum request apparently, and will most likely not be returning to the US, given your spectacularly competent state legal apparatus - something may work out with some of the other nations he's sought asylum in - he may have to go there and apply in person - Putin and Assange should help him out. We know for a fact, American retards like you won't.

craigvan
craigvan

@GCL1 @modera 

Haha. "smart resistance"?

His two options now are to return to the US and face prosecution with even more charges for being a fugitive or become a Russia citizen with only the freedom to show his leaks to the Kremlin, and thus admit that he's a tool for the Kremlin and go down is disgrace.

john_gabriel
john_gabriel like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

I am an American who stands with Snowden.  The corrupt US governments of the last 30 years have all but destroyed the American people by reducing them to slavehood, poverty and joblessness.  The wealthy elite who control these corrupt US administrations will not cease.


Whichever country grants Snowden asylum is on the side of the American people, who shall at some future time liberate themselves from tyranny of the wealthy.  We, the people, shall remember which country was on our side after we have disposed of all the wealthy and their lackey b$st$rds in DC.

craigvan
craigvan

@john_gabriel 

Russia isn't interested in the interests of the American people.

You are not going to dispose of the wealthy.  Russia has rich people also, but ordinary people make less than the US.

kuei12
kuei12

Yo Putin, This kind of defeats the entire purpose of being a whistle blower.

craigvan
craigvan

@kuei12 

Putin only cares about using Snowden for propaganda purposes.   If Snowden had betrayed the Russian spy agencies he would already be dead.

GCL1
GCL1 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

In a related story - "Charlie Sheen agreed to hook up again with Farrah Abraham, with not one but TWO provisos (or "catches" as the Americans like to call them) : 1) Abraham is to be discreet and not tweet about their relationship, and; 2) there is to be absolutely NO SEX involved in the arrangement."

P.S. "Having been stuck in the purgatory of a Moscow airport for more than a week....etc" - Dante would object. If a transit lounge in a Moscow airport is a "purgatory", what does that make solitary confinement with regular waterboarding in a maximum security federal facility with no chance of a fair trial, bail, or parole? Oh wait! Let's just ask Private Manning about that, shall we?


Eli74977
Eli74977 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Wake up, Markb3699, The Cold war is over. Snowden may become Russian citizen, not Soviet. The Soviet Union does not exist for more than twenty years.

markb3699
markb3699

I'm sure Snowden isn't naive enough to think the Russian government has no secrets. Will they bother him once he is a Soviet citizen?