As if the diplomatic confusion over Edward Snowden wasn’t dense enough already, leaders of the two nations most involved both insisted that their security organizations would work together to resolve it — in diametrically opposed fashions. Both Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama ordered their agencies to find a solution to Snowden’s status as a stranded traveler without papers:
Both Mr Putin and Mr Obama have now ordered the heads of their security agencies, the FBI and FSB, to find a solution to the impasse, according to the head of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev.
Speaking to the state television channel Rossiya 24, he said: “Of course (Putin and Obama) don’t have a solution that would work for both sides, so they have ordered the FSB director (Alexander) Bortnikov and FBI director Robert Mueller to keep in constant contact and find solutions.”
And Putin went further, announcing that Russia wouldn’t allow Snowden to stay as long as his leaks kept attacking American interests:
Putin says if Snowden wants to stay in Russia, he must "stop his work aimed at harming our American partners" #breaking
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 1, 2013
But, er, even if Snowden doesn’t, Russia will “never” hand him to the US:
Putin says Russia will never hand over Edward Snowden to the U.S. #breaking
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 1, 2013
And now Snowden has formally applied for asylum in Russia, according to the New York Times:
Edward J. Snowden, the former national security staffer accused of espionage, has applied for political asylum in Russia, a Russian immigration official said on Monday.
According to the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case, Mr. Snowden’s application was hand-delivered to a Russian consulate in Terminal F of Moscow’s Sheremyetevo Airport late Sunday evening by Sarah Harrison, an activist for WikiLeaks traveling with Mr. Snowden.
A Foreign Ministry official told The Los Angeles Times on Monday that Mr. Snowden had applied to 15 countries for political asylum, giving Russian diplomatic officials the appeals on Monday morning at a meeting at the airport. The official characterized the applications as “a desperate measure” on Mr. Snowden’s part, after Ecuadorean officials said that the Ecuadorean travel document he was using was invalid.
Mr. Snowden and Ms. Harrison are believed to have been staying in the airport since last Sunday, when they arrived on an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong, apparently intending to board a connecting flight to Latin America. But Mr. Snowden became caught in a geopolitical limbo, since his American passport was revoked and he has been unable to leave the transit zone.
The immigration official said that Mr. Snowden’s application for political asylum in Russia had not received a response from the Foreign Ministry as of Monday evening.
Obama seems to be behind the curve a bit:
@AP. CORRECTION: Obama says US has held 'high level' discussions with Russia on Snowden extradition (fixes typo)
— Ahmad A. Thyappako (@Agozeee) July 1, 2013
High-level talks about what, precisely? The word “never” makes it pretty clear that Russia will find some way to get Snowden out of the airport that doesn’t include a one-way ticket to Washington DC. Perhaps the US can convince the Russians to keep Snowden and force him to curtail the leaks, which right now looks like the only salvageable outcome. The other option would be to force Snowden to travel to a country that will extradite him, such as the UK or another of our NATO allies that didn’t just erupt in anger over the espionage leak du jour.
That may be the only way out for both countries, and might also be Putin’s gambit for the home crowd. Voices in Russia’s Parliament have called for Putin to grant Snowden asylum. If he makes that conditional on stopping the leaks, which Snowden may no longer control, then Putin will have an excuse to kick him out of the airport and into a country that may be more cooperative with the US on extradition. That way, Putin won’t dirty his hands with an extradition that technically wouldn’t be legal while gaining a big IOU from the Obama administration.
Update: Are you waiting for the inevitable Edward Snowden film? Wait no more:
Four days, and a $540 budget. Mel Gibson, eat your heart out. No, I don’t mean that literally, Mel ….