To Russia With Love
Anna Nemtsova on Snowden’s request for political asylum.
“Dobro pozhalovat, drug!"—“Welcome, friend!” So sounded the almost universal greeting from Russia to former national-security contractor Edward Snowden after he reportedly applied for political asylum there on Sunday.
In the Kremlin as on the Internet, Russian politicians, writers, and bloggers seemed unvaryingly happy that Snowden appeared to have chosen Russia as his new home after spending more than a month on the lam.
Only one person—albeit an important one—sounded less than thrilled by the Snowden request. On Monday, President Vladimir Putin told reporters that the American wouldn’t get political asylum unless he ceased leaking documents that could potentially hurt Washington.
Everyone else seemed to think that Snowden’s asylum request should be granted, as he could serve a useful role for Moscow.
“Snowden could be a great CEO for Gazprom,” Russian media tycoon Alexander Lebedev wrote on Twitter Monday, suggesting that the energy company’s existing head, Aleksei Miller, go to Ecuador in place of Snowden. (Snowden reportedly sought asylum in Ecuador as well.)
A blogger at Openindiana3 suggested that Snowden be given the apartment otherwise intended for French actor, Gérard Depardieu, who, for a moment at least, left his homeland for what he said would be a relocation to Russia. “He needs it more,” the blogger laconically noted on the Gazeta.ru website.
Another blogger going by the handle BGeorge expressed skepticism that Russian authorities would hand over Snowden to American authorities—something Putin agreed his country wouldn’t do. “Russia never gives up anyone to anybody, and is not planning to,” Putin told reporters.
On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Snowden had met with Russian diplomats to deliver his request for political asylum, though officials from Russia’s immigration services on Monday night denied that Snowden had applied for asylum.
During his press conference, Putin told reporters that Snowden could stay in Russia but with one stipulation: “If he wants to remain here, there is one condition: he should stop his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners, no matter how strange this may sound coming from me.”
One Russian lawmaker, Robert Schlegel, praised that plan.
“Putin is wise: Snowden should not publish the proof but give us all his information to improve Russian security,” Schlegel told The Daily Beast.
A group of Russian officials investigating whether American companies provided personal data of Russian citizens to the U.S. special services had previously suggested Snowden could help them with this task. “We hope that as soon as he solves his legal status, he will cooperate with us and give us proof that USA’s special service had access to Internet companies’ servers,” Sen. Ruslan Gattarov said.
Still, some were skeptical that Snowden would find a permanent home in Russia.
“In my 20 years of practice, I remember Russia granting political asylum only once, to former Azerbaijani president Ayaz Mutalibov,” said the chairperson of the Civil Support Committee, Svetlana Gannushkina.
Gannushkina, a human rights defender, had her own ideas about how Snowden could be useful to Mother Russia. As she said: “He could be a teacher of English.”