I wonder if the propaganda value to Maduro was enough to justify this, or if there was some other price.

The Russians have been nudging him for days to move along to Caracas. He missed the deadline for their offer yesterday but the AP reported a few hours ago that he’d finally formally requested asylum this morning. If you believe the Russian lawmaker cited by the AP, it’s now a done deal. Fun fact: It was just a month ago that John Kerry reached out to Venezuela’s foreign minister for talks in hopes of improving relations in a post-Chavez hemisphere. Said the Venezuelan FM, “We have faith and confidence that this meeting marks the start of a relationship of respect.” The inchoate Venezuelan reset ended up working out as well as the Russian one did.

What might Maduro want from Snowden, besides some televised anti-American blather and, of course, intelligence on how better to build his own surveillance state? Maybe a little extra goodwill from America’s enemies:

Venezuela has reason to fear increasing irrelevance as North America becomes more energy independent. This makes Iran crucial. Mr. Maduro may be trying to establish himself as a leader as committed to the anti-American cause as was his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who had a strong personal bond with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also needs to establish his own place in South American politics…

[E]ven a government that locks down the press and spies on its own citizens without answering for it needs allies. No nation can survive in full isolation, especially when its economic power collapses.

Latin despots get this. Argentina is depositing goodwill in its account with Iran by blocking Alberto Nisman’s trip to Washington. Venezuela, by offering refuge to Edward Snowden, is undoubtedly making a similar offering to the enemies of its enemies.

Glenn Greenwald claimed this morning that “There are many more domestic stories coming, and big ones, and soon,” but there’s been no meaningful public backlash to the PRISM bombshell and it’s hard to imagine revelations about spying more comprehensive than that. I can imagine stuff that would cause a true scandal — if NSA was spying on Congress, for instance, or if there’s evidence of collected metadata being abused for political gain — but “they’re not just collecting data from Facebook, they’re collecting it from Twitter too!” isn’t going to move the needle. We’ll see.

As for Snowden, he’s got two problems. First, the U.S. revoked his passport so it’s unclear if he’ll be allowed to leave Moscow. As I understand it, though, passports aren’t always required for travel in asylum cases. And since Russia wants Snowden out of their hair at this point, they have no reason to be sticklers. Second, if EU countries treat his flight to Caracas the way they treated Evo Morales’s flight home to Bolivia, Snowden may have no direct route to South America headed west from Moscow. He might have to fly east, over China and the Pacific, to try to get there. Not impossible, but a much longer, more expensive trip. Is Maduro footing the bill? Is someone else?

Update: Hold the phone.

Did Venezuela suddenly get cold feet? Can’t wait to find out why.