When сovering the Edward Snowden saga, Russian journalists tend to put it in the context of international relations, while English-language press primarily assesses the impact it has had on society.
Russia’s biggest news and analysis website, Lenta.ru, chose to spotlight the repercussions of the Snowden case for U.S.-Russian relations.
“Edward Snowden is becoming another stumbling block on the way to streamlining relations between Moscow and Washington,” a Lenta.ru author, Anton Klyuchkin, wrote in his article.
“While everyone is second-guessing what’s actually happening to Snowden, political hysteria is building up, primarily in the United States, whose Secretary of State John Kerry said that there would be an impact on the relationship,” the article said.
Deputies from Russia’s nationalist Liberal Democratic Party suggested exchanging Snowden for arms smuggler Viktor Bout and a few other Russians convicted in the United States. But Bout’s attorney rebuffed the idea, saying that for a swap like that, Snowden must be arrested first.
A communist Deputy Ivan Kalashnikov said Snowden is “no spy or traitor, as the United States believes, but a person who did it for humane reasons.”
The head of the International Affairs Committee of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Alexey Pushkov, was quoted as saying that by providing asylum to Snowden, Moscow would “take up the mission of protecting those persecuted on political motives.”
“Vladimir Putin was more moderate in his statements than anyone else, calling Snowden ‘a free man’ and wishing him to find a new homeland as soon as possible,” Klyuchkin said.
What benefits does China reap from Snowden?
The Editor in Chief of the influential Nezavisimaya Gazeta Konstantin Remchukov pointed out that the Snowden scandal has played well into China’s hands.
“The last six months of U.S.-Chinese relations were marked by mounting U.S. pressure on China, after it was discovered that hacker attacks on American websites, including those of the government and big corporations, lead to the People’s Liberation Army of China,” Remchukov said.
“The issue of cyberwar and espionage against the United States has now been removed from the agenda, and the world is discussing only American cyberwar and espionage against everyone else, including its closest allies.”
Remchukov added that in his view, Snowden is anything but a naïve fool, as some may think.
“He is into spy games, but he hasn’t thought out the consequences of his revelations well enough,” Remchukov said. “The subsequent chain of events is making his life more complicated every day – Americans are exerting unprecedented pressure on all countries he may end up in, thus giving him less space to maneuver.”
Any country that may harbor Snowden will make enemies with the United States without reaping any benefits, and the worst option for Moscow, in Remchukov’s view, would be to provide Snowden asylum – something that many Russian public activists have been calling for.
“Snowden proved himself as a champion of human rights, and now the U.S. government is determined to punish him,” a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights Kirill Kabanov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Russia should take a stand and refuse to turn him in to the United States.”
Remchukov believes it would be wiser to have Snowden leave for another country.
Eavesdropping: a commonplace occurrence for Russians
The Snowden case showed that “no one is safe from the all-seeing eye of secret services in the citadel of democracy,” as Vladimir Skosyrev, an author of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, referred to the United States.
After 70 years of KGB surveillance, reported snooping by secret services hardly comes as a shocking revelation for Russians.
Skosyrev noted that in an ongoing high-profile trial of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, prosecutors presented records of Navalny’s phone conversations from 2009, including with Kirov Regional Governor Nikita Belykh. No justification was given for tapping Navalny’s phone three years before the criminal probe began. The question of who sanctioned it and why has been left unanswered.
In 2010, a high-ranking officer of Russia’s Drug Control Service, along with eight police officers and an officer of the Main Intelligence Directorate, were charged with tapping the phones of top managers of Russia’s National Grid Company and two major investment banks for $1,000 an hour.
“After the end of the Cold War, demand for electronic surveillance emerged both in the West and in Russia because of the threat of international terrorism,” Skosyrev said. “But the fight against terror can’t justify the permissiveness of secret services, especially in our country, where they have served as a tool to enforce lawlessness and arbitrariness for years.”
Slamming double-standard policy
The pro-Kremlin Vzglyad newspaper cited a number of high-profile politicians castigating the United States for implementing double standards.
“Is that what they call American democracy? That’s a shame. It’s one nation’s information dictatorship,” said Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The Deputy Speaker of the lower house of parliament Sergei Zheleznyak, of the ruling United Russia party, called for storing Russians’ personal data only on servers based on the territory of Russia, not in the United States.
Vzglyad ran a piece by U.S.-based writer and publisher Michael Dorfman, who said he remembered getting to know Snowden through an Internet forum in 2006. Dorfman said he doesn’t believe Snowden is a spy.
“He was too open about the details of his private life,” he said. “I got the impression that Snowden knew he was going to reveal state secrets to the public and was afraid that he might get lost in a secret jail, be hunted, slandered or even killed, and he meticulously created his own profile on the Internet, trying to leave as many traces as possible.”
The ethical angle of the Snowden case
British newspaper The Guardian largely focused on the ethical side of the Snowden case. In a recent editorial, The Guardian called for Snowden to leave Russia as soon as he practically can.
“Mr Snowden is clear that he leaked his information in order to alert the world to the unprecedented and industrial scale of NSA and GCHQ secret data trawling. As long as he remains in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, however, the real issue remains clouded. This damages Mr Snowden’s cause, which this newspaper supports.”
The Guardian argues that Snowden is not a spy or a foreign agent. “He is a whistleblower. He has published government information. And it is as a whistleblower that he will eventually have to answer to the law,” The Guardian said.
The New York Times placed the emphasis on Snowden’s role in American society.
“So what is Snowden?” asked columnist Roger Cohen. “A self-aggrandizing geek who betrayed his country and his employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, exposed the United States to greater risk of a terrorist attack, and may now — wittingly or unwittingly — have made his trove of secrets available to China and Russia, nations that are no longer enemies, but are rival powers? Or a brave young American determined to fight — at the risk of long imprisonment — against his country’s post-9/11 lurch toward the invasion of citizens’ lives?”
Cohen did not arrive at a straightforward conclusion, pointing out that while performing a critical service, Snowden broke the law of his country and his actions sent the wrong message.
“We do not know what, if anything, he has offered China or Russia — or been coerced or tricked into handing over. He has, through his choice of destination, embraced states that suppress individual rights and use the Internet as an instrument of control and persecution,” Cohen said.