Snowden Just Put Russian In A Major Bind

Due to his passport problems, prolific NSA leaker Edward Snowden is officially asking Russia for “temporary” asylum in order for him to leave a Moscow airport’s transit zone “safely” to make his way to Venezuela (the most likely candidate).

His request effectively asks Russia to take a side, something they’ve been unwilling to do.

“If he wants to stay, there’s one condition: He must stop his activity aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as it sounds coming from my lips,” said Russian Vladimir Putin, a frequent critic of U.S. policy, told reporters in the Kremlin June 2.

Snowden needs asylum because he must cross into Russian airspace and then international airspace in order to reach Venezuela. Where Venezuelan protection might not go heeded (as we saw recently when a presidential Bolivian jet was forced to make an emergency landing), Russian protection carries a bit more weight.

Putin — knowing the already frosty nature of U.S./Russia relations — is likely trying to avoid an awkward China-like Snowden situation. On a recent visit to Beijing, Obama reiterated his disappointment in China’s decision to let Snowden slip away.

The U.S. State Department’s position also hasn’t changed — essentially asking Russia to hand him over — from Bloomberg:

“Our position is the same — that he should be expelled and returned home here to the U.S.” to face espionage charges, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at a briefing yesterday when asked about reports of Snowden’s asylum request. Ventrell said it was “up to the Russians” to confirm it.

Nonetheless, Putin has maintained neutrality throughout, saying several times that he hopes the U.S. “will understand” Russia’s non-position on Snowden — which relies mostly on current international law.

“We can only extradite any foreign citizens to such countries with which we have signed the appropriate international agreements on criminal extradition,” Putin said just days after Snowden’s arrival.

There’s only one problem, in Snowden’s own words, “All I can say right now is the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”

Certainly an impatient Russia is in quite the bind with Edward Snowden, and it’s only getting worse.

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