STUCK JUNE 25, 2013
After two days of chasing Edward Snowden, we finally have confirmation of where he is: in the transit zone at Sheremetyevo airport, in Moscow. "It is true that Edward Snowden is in Moscow, and it really came as a surprise to us," said Russian President Vladimir Putin. That last part, that it came as a surprise, is hardly believable, given the swarms of FSB agents at the airport and the fact that Russian police ringed the plane that was supposed to take Snowden to Cuba as it sat on the tarmac. Also not believable was the angry statement of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accused of the U.S. of "conspiracy" and claimed that Snowden "did not cross the Russian border."
While this is technically correct—Snowden did not go through passport control—it is also a joke: The transit zone is sovereign Russian territory, and if the Russians wanted to take him out of the transit zone, they'd do it in a heartbeat. And, of course, they'd do so "within the confines of the law," a favorite phrase in a country where the law, famously, means absolutely nothing. (As I wrote in my farewell to Moscow, "in Russia, the absence of the rule of law is sublimated into the tyranny of the procedural guideline and the dictatorship of the technicality. Without the right notarized piece of paper, the saying goes 'you're a doodie.'")
The Americans, everyone from Kerry to Carney, have been flipping out about Snowden, railing at Moscow and Beijing to give him back. After Putin's confirmation, the White House barked at the Russians again. The Russians, it said, have "a clear legal basis" for turning over Snowden, though Putin said they had signed no pact (read: "the right notarized slip of paper") that would allow them to hand over Snowden. "He is a free person," Putin said.
Based on that last statement, that he's "a free man," I'm going to make a prediction here: Snowden isn't going to Ecuador. He's staying in Russia.
Why? Because that's what "free men" with troves of valuable data—just look at how hard the White House is fighting to get him back—and even more valuable revenge potential do when they take a strange detour to South America through Moscow and, mysteriously, get stuck.
John Kerry whined "reciprocity is important," citing the fact that the Americans had turned over seven wanted prisoners to Russia. But yes, reciprocity is important, and Russia doesn't much care about those seven nameless prisoners. It cares about a guy named Viktor Bout, whom the Americans nabbed in Thailand and refused to turn over to the Russians. The Russians were pretty mad about that one -- about as mad, you might say, as the Americans are about Snowden.
Then there are the four laptops. Putin said that Russian security services—which, again, are swarming the airport—"have not and are not working" with Snowden. Feels like there's a missing word there, like, oh, I don't know, "yet." I'm going to call bullshit on that one, but if you don't believe me, listen to Ellen Barry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Moscow Bureau Chief for the Times. "If #Snowden's been at Sheremetyevo all this time but FSB did not approach, it's like a hungry man looking at a hamburger and not touching it," she tweeted. (A Russian security source told a Reuters reporter that "he is a tasty morsel for any, any, secret service, also for ours.")
I promise you, dear reader, that that hamburger—or tasty morsel—will get eaten, if it hasn't been devoured already.
But the main reason Snowden is likely to stay in Russia is the country's ornery instinct for doing whatever gets in America's way. In a past post, I called Russia a "geopolitical racketeer," insinuating itself into situations that have nothing to do with it—Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict come to mind—and extracting some demagogic profit. The Guardian's Andrew Ryvkin put it even better when he said that Russia loves to "photobomb" American foreign policy. This gets back to the wounded psyche—seriously, stop me if you've heard this one—of a still downed Cold War superpower and its almost adolescent desire for "respect." But mostly, this is an opportunity to photobomb, an opportunity like no other. It costs Russia little, and the U.S. can't really get back at it—our trade with Russia, for instance, is infintesimal and we've already scaled down the importance of the Russia portfolio (see above re: respect)—and it probably just feels so good.
Moreover, it is a familiar act for Moscow: getting up on the global stage and loudly defending victims of America's internal injustices —Angela Davis, for instance, was a Soviet propaganda icon in the 1970s—while killing and jailing their own local Snowdens.
So get ready, Edward Snowden, to be today's Angela Davis. And, if you get lonely in a country where you don't speak the language, Gerard Depardieu can show you the ropes.