More broadly, in almost every dispute between Russia and other former Soviet states, even with the authoritarian and repressive Belarus, the United States and the European Union have sided with Moscow’s opponents. This creates an impression that the West’s top priorities, long after the Cold War, include not merely containing Russia but also transforming it.”

Now Putin, who just recently at the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland rebuked Obama to his face over Syria, may have at his fingertips an instrument of ultimate payback: an American leaker who professes to want to expose the United States’ “architecture of oppression,” which is the sort of thing Putin himself is often accused of.

In the end Putin may well be a responsible enough world leader to realize that the potential intelligence trove and one-upmanship of America he’d reap by keeping Snowden isn’t enough to offset the damage he could do to U.S.-Russia relations. Like the Chinese, he may want Snowden to simply disappear (though, we must hope, not to a dungeon somewhere in the vast apparatus controlled by Russian intelligence). Using a homey metaphor at a news conference in Finland on Tuesday, Putin indicated Snowden simply wasn’t worth the trouble: “It’s like shearing a piglet: a lot of squealing and little wool,” he said.