The Snowden saga has more or less reached its conclusion with regard to Edward Snowden himself. In all likelihood, the fact that the Russians only granted him one-year temporary asylum is a diplomatic ruse. They need to minimize the impact of their disregard for the U.S.-Russian legal assistance treaty, which would require them to return Snowden. By calling it “temporary” and limiting it to one year (for now), they don’t appear as if they intend to flout the treaty forever. The freedom to travel around Russia, even if only on a temporary basis, allows him to access the embassies of countries that may decide to grant him a more permanent status. But if there were any doubts as to the Russians’ true intentions regarding Snowden, Vladimir Putin’s statement that Russia will “never” hand him over to the U.S. should put them to rest.
Snowden’s decision to end his flight in Russia is interesting, but not surprising. Virtually all the other countries to which he applied for asylum turned down his request. And while he did release information that exposed the U.S. government’s spying on foreign countries, these countries realize that despite the political posturing of their public statements, countries — even allies — spy on each other. President Obama made this clear in response to the criticism of France and Germany when he said, “[W]herever there’s an intelligence service — here’s one thing that they’re going to be doing: They’re going to be trying to understand the world better, and what’s going on in world capitals around the world.” This reality makes it highly unlikely that they would have ever seriously entertained the notion of granting asylum to Snowden for something they most likely do as well.
For all the righteous indignation the EU members are exhibiting, they have enough sense to realize the ludicrousness of any country lecturing the United States about freedom and the right to privacy. While the actual issue of the NSA’s PRISM program is the source of much debate in this country, the debate has largely been about whether the program’s existence itself is an infringement of citizens’ privacy or not — not if it has, in practice, violated that right. Considering its scope, it’s quite amazing that there has yet to be a documented case of actual abuse of the program.
It is remarkable that Russia, of all countries, would be the one to grant “refugee” status to the man responsible for leaking information about supposed governmental abuses vis-à-vis its citizens. Snowden himself cannot be blamed for accepting the only viable offer of asylum he received. The Russian Federation’s willingness to be the country to publicly defend and stand up for the rights of Snowden is curious when you consider their less-than-exemplary record with regard to human rights. Sergei Nikitin, who runs Amnesty International Russia, pointed out that a whistleblower who exposed secrets in Russia would likely be zealously prosecuted by the Putin government. “Russian Federation is a country that human rights organizations have found to be a serious violator of human rights,” Nikitin said, “including the right to express information.”
While there are many examples of Russian abuses of human rights, perhaps the most striking case in point is that of Alexei Navalny. While Navalny has taken some very questionable positions in the past, his massive rallies against Putin’s ruling United Russia party and its corrupt practices make him the most recognizable anti-corruption figure in Russia today. The government responded by jailing him, and later charging him with what many human rights leaders and diplomatic officials have all but said were bogus charges of embezzlement. The great irony here is that the trial was going on as Snowden landed in Russia, and his conviction (which conveniently bars him from participating in the Russian political process for life) took place while the NSA contractor was in the airport’s transit zone.
Chazal tell us (Midrash Rabah, Parashas Shemini) that a corrupt government is likened to a chazer, a pig. Just as a chazer sticks its feet out to display its split hooves as if to proclaim that it is kosher, so, too, a government which engages in corrupt activities and takes advantage of its people will publicly act as though they have regard for the rule of law. The Midrash brings a story of a ruler who, while executing people for a number of different infractions, whispered in the ear of one of the condemned that he himself had broken all those laws the previous day.
Russia refuses to return Snowden — who shared damaging intelligence with foreign entities hostile to his nation — to the most just country on earth, while she herself tramples on her own citizens’ rights without second thought. That is no different than the chazer, which hopes that the display of its split hooves will distract from the fact that it is, indeed, a non-kosher animal. To be sure, Snowden’s status as a “refugee” from the U.S. in a country as oppressive as Russia is not at all kosher.