Edward Snowden has probably already left Russia. If so, why do the Russian special services hide the fact?

Photo: AFP / East News

Since Congress adopted the Magnitsky Act in exchange for dropping the Jackson-Vanik amendment, the Russian establishment has become convinced that the United States is continuing to set fairly tough terms for partnership in spite of the declared “reset” of relations.

This conviction is manifested in everything: the finger-wagging rhetoric about toughening the rules for mass events in Russia; outrage over the formalization of control over financing of Russian NGOs from abroad; and the ban on adoption of Russian children by American citizens.

Meanwhile, the United States takes for granted serious political concessions on key issues.

For example, Dmitry Medvedev’s support for the United Nations Security Council resolution that effectively sealed the fate of Muammar Qaddafi and Libya has been all but forgotten. Russia’s signing of the resolution seriously complicated its relations with many countries, making it appear that the Kremlin was toeing the White House line.

Alexei Mukhin. Photo: TASS

Such a one-sided approach – to see only what one wants to see – has confirmed for Russia its view that any concessions to the U.S. amount to betrayal of national interests. Although that is, of course, an exaggeration, there is a grain of truth in it.

The serious devaluation of NATO’s moral authority after the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq on the pretext of fighting terrorism continues to erode American influence on processes in other countries. True, the U.S. does not seem to notice this and continues to labor under the illusion of its unchallenged world dominance.

This illusion led the U.S. to demand from Russia in a peremptory tone to stop escorting Edward Snowden, a former CIA agent, to Ecuador on grounds of its own national security.

Washington has no serious grounds for demanding that Russia extradite Snowden or for accusing it of giving shelter to the former CIA agent who blew the whistle on the unlawful actions of the American authorities with regard to its own citizens. At one time, Washington turned down Moscow’s offer to spell out a clear mechanism for extradition of suspects and criminals to each other.

A more intriguing aspect of the hullabaloo over Snowden and angry accusations against the Russian authorities for hiding him on its territory is that all this diverts American public opinion from the main protagonist in this scandal: President Barack Obama, who is supposed to be responsible for the actions of his intelligence gatherers.

The motivation of the Russian security services is understandable: it has been a long time since they last had an opportunity to twitch the nerves of their American counterparts, who are confident of their omnipotence. It could be seen as a bit of moral compensation for decades of humiliation for the successors to the KGB.

The U.S. stands little to gain from blowing up the incident, let alone internationalizing it: it is too obvious that Washington cannot prevent Moscow from playing its own game. If the U.S. government chooses this incident to further strain relations with Moscow, it would likely make a laughing stock of itself in the eyes of the intelligence communities because it would expose the lack of real leverage on the Kremlin.

Russia’s pointedly independent line is likely to gain it approval from countries that have no sympathy for the U.S. and will partially restore its reputation following the “Libyan incident.”
Moreover, the U.S. government was already in an awkward situation when a CIA agent working under cover of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow tried to recruit a key FSB official, arguing that anti-terrorist activities had to be stepped up.

The exposure of the “spy in a wig” in time for Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in Moscow was an extremely unpleasant incident that lent a tinge of scandal to the entire visit. Thankfully, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments on the incident were delicate enough.

The longer the Snowden scandal lasts, the more it will damage the reputation of the U.S. Considering that the G8 members recently made a concession to Russia at Lough Erne over the “Syria problem” (the resolution does not contain a single point unacceptable to Russia), it appears that Russia’s role in international processes is becoming more muscular, as witnessed by the latest events.

Snowden has probably left Russia, assuming he did, indeed, spend even a minute on its territory. Even the illusion of Snowden’s presence showcases the stealth capabilities of Russia’s special services.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff. 

Read a related opinion by Danielle Johnson, an Alfa Fellow in Moscow, Russia - "Snowden effect."

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