First, because he can. Putin could simply not resist an act that would not only embarrass Washington, but remind it that Russia, not America, is now in the driver’s seat of their east-west relationship.
Second, because most reliable opinion polls here suggest a majority of Russians think Snowden should be given permanent asylum in Russia. That means Snowden’s presence could be a vote-winner for Putin, who already has eyes on a fourth term in office, after elections in 2018.
Third, because doing so would be popular among America’s adversaries. As Lukyanov puts it: ‘’If Putin cares about nothing else, he cares about how the Third World thinks about Russia. And the Third World sees Snowden as a hero who spilled the beans on imperialist America. Putin is sensitive to that. There’s too much at stake not to be.”
Finally, Putin saw a chance to strike at the heart of the US-Russia rivalry – the fight over each other’s human rights record.