June 26, 2013

Pit stop by Snowden a gift for Putin

The fugitive's Moscow stay gives Russia access to his files and leverage against the U.S., analysts say.

McClatchy Washington Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration Sergei Ivanov attend a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany in 1941 in Moscow
click image to enlarge

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, shown at a ceremony in Moscow on Saturday, made it clear Tuesday that Russia won’t expel Edward Snowden, who as a transit passenger “is entitled to buy a ticket and fly to wherever he wants.”


"We've asked the Russian government to consider all potential options to expel him, to return him to the United States, and we're going to continue those discussions," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.

Even before Snowden turned up at Sheremetyevo International Airport, bilateral relations had soured so badly that few in Washington policy circles were still talking about a "reset," the Obama administration's term for what officials had hoped would be a warming of ties. There was never much reciprocity from the Kremlin.

"Obama has been chasing Putin, as we all have," said Giles, the Russia specialist in Britain. "We keep on calling and sending flowers even though they're happy just to string us along."

The past year and a half brought dispute after dispute between the U.S. and Russia, chief among them a deadlock over the vicious civil war in Syria. Russia wholeheartedly supports the regime of President Bashar Assad and feels "vindicated," as one analyst put it, now that regime forces are routing rebels in key areas. The United States, on the other hand, has been adrift on Syria, with no clear policy and no real partners among the factionalized Syrian opposition that includes major segments with ties to al-Qaida.

American diplomats have tried in vain to move the Russian position; Moscow has vetoed three Western-backed resolutions to pressure the Syrian regime and insists it will continue to supply the regime with weapons such as the S300 air-defense system.

Other strains include: Russia freezing U.S. adoptions of Russian children after fatal abuse cases; Congress approving a law barring several Russian officials from entering the U.S.; and Russia revealing the purported CIA station chief after broadcasting on TV the arrest of an American agent who was caught trying to recruit a Russian spy.

If, as suspected, the Russians already have extracted intelligence from Snowden, then there's little incentive for Putin to cooperate, analysts said. The Russians could demand the return of Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian arms smuggler being held in Illinois, but analysts said they doubted Moscow needed anything more to do with the Snowden case. "It plays so well into Putin's narrative: We're going to (do) whatever we can to impede U.S. unilateral exercising of power in the world, including in the intelligence and cyber world," said Kuchins.


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