“If he wants to go somewhere and they accept him, please, be my guest…If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must cease his work aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners, as strange as it may sound from my lips.” Vladimir Putin on Edward Snowden, in today’s NY Times.
Not sure whether I was more taken aback by Putin’s claim that he wanted to prevent someone from inflicting damage on his “American partners” (see, for example, Ryan Fogle, Bashar al-Assad, or Robert Kraft), or that he seemed to have a sense of humor about it!
More seriously, I wonder if Putin has found himself in a bit of a bind. Snowden has become quite popular in Russia – not the least because he probably was a great tool for the regime to bolster its claim of the US as a threat to Russian national security, Putin’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding – but I wonder if Putin is beginning to have second thoughts about having someone around long term who has made his name arguing that regimes shouldn’t monitor the online behavior of their citizens (and the NY Times article also reports that Snowden has withdrawn his application for asylum in Russia). Perhaps this bit of tongue-in-cheek is really aimed at domestic audiences – “look, we’re all in on the joke to be pretending the help the Americans here, but not really….” as a bit of slight of hand while they simultaneously eschew responsibility for Snowden long-term.