Remember when the Obama administration sent a reset button to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as a way to thumb their noses at the outgoing Bush administration and blame them for poor relations with Moscow? Good times, good times. Lavrov delivered yet another lesson on the dangers of naiveté, this time bluntly rejecting the extradition demand from the White House over Edward Snowden, as well as a verbal dressing-down over the conduct of American diplomacy in the affair:
Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday bluntly rejected U.S. demands to extradite National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who has apparently stopped in Moscow while trying to evade U.S. justice, saying that Snowden hasn’t crossed the Russian border.
Sergey Lavrov insisted that Russia has nothing to do with him or his travel plans. Lavrov wouldn’t say where Snowden is, but he angrily lashed out at the U.S. for demanding his extradition and warnings of negative consequences if Moscow fails to comply.
“We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violation of U.S. laws and even some sort of conspiracy, which on top of all that are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable,” Lavrov said. “There are no legal grounds for such conduct of U.S. officials, and we proceed from that.” …
Lavrov claimed that the Russian government has only found out about Snowden’s flight from Hong Kong from news reports.
“We have no relation to Mr. Snowden, his relations with the American justice or his travel around the world,” Lavrov said. “He chooses his route himself, and we have learned about it from the media.”
“No legal grounds” refers to the fact that Snowden has apparently not attempted to go through passport control in the Moscow airport. Officially, he hasn’t entered Russia yet, which is how Lavrov is parrying US pressure, at least for now:
Sergey Lavrov said that Snowden hadn’t crossed the Russian border and insisted that Russia has nothing to do with him, his relations with U.S. justice or his travel plans.
“He chose his itinerary on his own,” Lavrov insisted. “He has not crossed the Russian border.”
The Russians and the Chinese are making fools out of US officials, and don’t think that’s gone unnoticed. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker even points out Barack Obama’s golf game as a criticism in the disjointed response to Snowden’s flight:
It was bright and sunny in Washington on Saturday as President Obama stepped out of the White House in flip-flops and khaki shorts to hit the golf course with his buddies.
At the same time, officials throughout his administration were scrambling to keep one of America’s most-wanted fugitives from evading extradition in Hong Kong.
The juxtaposition illustrates the hands-off approach Obama has taken — in public, at least — to the government’s efforts to bring Edward Snowden, the 30-year-old former contractor who exposed classified details of U.S. surveillance programs, back to the United States to face charges of revealing government secrets.
Conservatives say Obama’s posture in the case provides further evidence of a commander in chief whose credibility abroad has declined and who shrinks from presidential leadership at moments of international crisis, including in response to last fall’s attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
“Nobody’s afraid of this guy,” said former George W. Bush administration adviser Eliot A. Cohen, who argues that Obama should have personally stood up to Chinese and Russian officials. “Nobody’s saying there are any real consequences that would come from crossing him — and that’s an awful position for the president of the United States to be in.”
Obama’s defenders say that it might have been even worse had the President put himself personally in the middle of this, only to end up empty-handed. That’s probably true, assuming that such an effort would have failed. But the juxtaposition of the disarray that allowed Hong Kong to let Snowden slip out of the country and the optics of the flip-flop-wearing Golfer in Chief only underscores the Keystone Kops quality of both the internal security issues and the failed diplomacy that followed.