Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Snowden, Putin and the rest of them

According to Wikileaks and the BBC, Snowden has submitted a request for political asylum to 21 countries:
  1. Austria
  2. Bolivia
  3. Brazil
  4. China
  5. Cuba
  6. Ecuador
  7. Finland
  8. France
  9. Germany
  10. Iceland
  11. India
  12. Italy
  13. Ireland
  14. Netherlands
  15. Nicaragua
  16. Norway
  17. Poland
  18. Russia (withdrawn)
  19. Spain
  20. Switzerland
  21. Venezuela
I reproduce the full list here as I think that this shows something very important: Snowden does not appear to have had a clear plan for his flight or, if he did, something happened which made it collapse.  Whatever may be the case, such a long list indicates despair, probably as the result of very poor planning.

For one thing, all the countries which have denied him a visa on the technicality that he is not on their territory or consulate are, technically, correct.  Of course, they could decide to forgo such a technicality out of humanitarian concerns, but the fact is that they are right: you cannot request asylum from afar.

Then there is the rather strange statement of Putin.  No, I am not referring to Putin's description of the USA as a "partner".  As Anonymous0456 correctly put it: "A partner in Russian is someone whom one has to deal with but who is not considered a friend, or an enemy."  I would only add that since 1991 and the seemingly infinite list of Western betrayals of their promises to Russia and the equally seemingly infinite list of adopted anti-Russian policies, a lot of Russians are using the words "partner" and even "friends" in a very sarcastic manner.  When somebody as deeply anti-Western as Nikolai Starikov speaks of "our geostrategic friends" or our "Anglo Saxon friends" he really means "our mortal foes", of course.

No, what is bizarre in Putin's statement is this condition that Snowden must refrain from anti-US activities.   I have worked with asylum seekers and as far as I know, the only legal limit on their political activity is that they are prohibited from participating in the internal politics of the country which grants them asylum.  As far as I know, there is absolutely no legal basis to prevent a refugee from expressing his opinions about the country he fled.

Furthermore, Putin looked somewhat irritated by the Snowden topic.  First, as I have said already several times here, the Russians have exactly *zero* interests in Snowden or his so-called "revelations".  My feeling is that Putin actually spoke the plain simple truth when he said that Snowden's arrival in Moscow was a surprise for the Kremlin.  Not in the sense that they did not know about it or could not have prevented it, but in the sense that they had no idea what Snowden was up to.  In other words, Snowdens is a pain in the butt for Russia, which right now has bigger fish to fry with the US, and his clear lack of planning probably irritates the Russians who feel that they have no obligations towards him other than the minimalistic "we will not hand him to the US or anybody else", which is more an expression of basic self-respect than of a great deal of compassion.

The fact is that Snowen has triggered yet another wave of anti-Russian hysterics in the USA, something which the Kremlin will hardly be grateful for.  What is certain, and Putin also said that, is that Snowden and the Russians never collaborated on anything and that all the actions of Snowden have been unilateral in nature.

Now, on a personal, human, level I feel sorry for Snowden and I wish somebody did the right thing and granted him a safe and comfortable asylum.  My personal feeling is that Snowden in sincere and idealistic, and that he tried hard to do the right thing, but he ended up "playing in the wrong court" with the big boys like the USA, China or Russia who have their own rules and priorities and who care very little about well-intentioned and naive young men.  As a result, he is now really in a bad situation and one which is further deteriorating very rapidly.

If my suppositions are correct, he might want to take the first offer available to him (Maduro's?) and settle somewhere at least temporarily .

Finally, look at the list of countries above.  While some are reasonable options, others (Italy, Poland) are terrible.  Does Snowden not even know that Uncle Sam kidnapped people in Italy and tortured them in Poland?!

Clearly, Snowden seems to know next to nothing about the sad reality of European politics.

I feel sorry for him as it appears he will learn the hard realities of life the hard way.

The Saker