Skip to main content

How Putin's move could help Snowden and U.S.

By Andrew C. Kuchins, Special to CNN
August 2, 2013 -- Updated 1208 GMT (2008 HKT)
National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden poses with German Green party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Stroebele in Moscow on October 31. Stroebele returned from the meeting with a letter from Snowden to German authorities, which was distributed to the media. In it, Snowden said he is confident that with international support, the United States would abandon its efforts to "treat dissent as defection" and "criminalize political speech with felony charges." National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden poses with German Green party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Stroebele in Moscow on October 31. Stroebele returned from the meeting with a letter from Snowden to German authorities, which was distributed to the media. In it, Snowden said he is confident that with international support, the United States would abandon its efforts to "treat dissent as defection" and "criminalize political speech with felony charges."
HIDE CAPTION
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
NSA leaker Edward Snowden
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia
  • Andrew Kuchins says people should not be quick to label it a defeat for U.S.
  • He says Putin would likely want Snowden to leave Russia voluntarily
  • Kuchins: Snowden should reflect on unhappy fate of asylum seekers in Russia

Editor's note: Andrew C. Kuchins is director and senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

(CNN) -- After five and a half weeks in transit limbo, NSA leaker Edward Snowden was granted temporary one-year asylum in Russia on Thursday.

The White House expressed "disappointment" and again raised the threat of possibly canceling the meeting between President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin next month when the U.S. president is scheduled to travel to Russia for the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg.

But just how disappointed should Washington be with this development?

With Snowden being allowed to leave the transit area, the move can provide an opportunity for U.S. authorities to make contact with him somewhere in Moscow. It is my understanding that while Snowden has been in the transit area, it has not been possible for U.S. authorities to make contact with him, and this has been a real problem for Washington.

Perhaps if Snowden had a clearer idea of what precisely his fate would be upon return to the United States, he might reconsider. That was certainly the purpose of Attorney General Eric Holder's letter to the Russians last week.

Andrew C. Kuchins
Andrew C. Kuchins

Putin has made clear several times that his preferred option is for Snowden to leave Russia as soon as possible, and I am inclined to believe him. My hope for the past few weeks has been that there had been considerable back-channel communication between U.S. and Russian authorities, including most importantly at the Obama/Putin level, about finding a reasonably acceptable exit strategy from the dilemma.

Russia has already gotten some PR bang from the Snowden affair, and we have to assume that Russian intelligence authorities have copied all materials that Snowden brought with him as well as whatever else he knows about sources and methods, intelligence personnel, internal operations, etc.

It is hard to imagine that Russian special services have not had extensive conversations with him and likely this cooperation was an important factor in consideration of his asylum request. But staying in Russia longer only gratuitously inflames an already very shaky and vulnerable U.S.-Russia relationship that I do not believe Putin seeks to further damage, at least not because of Snowden.

Putin has made clear that he will not extradite Snowden to the United States, and we should take him at his word on that. However, if Snowden himself decided that he preferred to return to the United States, then the Russians would be obliged, and perhaps happy, to let him go.

Washington upset over Snowden asylum
WikiLeaks: Snowden asylum is a victory
Lawyer: Snowden location is secret, safe

Perhaps Snowden should heed the excellent story by Kathy Lally in The Washington Post on July 19 about the predominantly sad fates of U.S. citizens who have received asylum in the former Soviet Union and Russia.

There is no way the ex-KGB agent Putin, who fundamentally despises and disrespects traitors and revealers of state secrets, will allow Snowden much running room in Russia. Putin does not really like public discussions of state surveillance of citizens, even if they are U.S. citizens, and when he states the condition of staying in Russia that Snowden stop harming the United States, he probably means he wants an end to public revelations of further documents Snowden claims to have.

And if Snowden were to pursue his so-called human rights activities in Russia, he would meet a very unhappy fate indeed. Like many of his asylum-seeking brethren in the past, he may find his life so restricted that he turns to drink or some worse self-destructive fate.

So Snowden should not only be clear about what his likely fate would be in returning to the United States, but he should also be clearly briefed by our Russian friends about how he will actually be treated upon receiving asylum in Russia if that were to happen.

Finally, having received and accepted for now asylum in Russia, this is the second-best outcome for U.S. security interests after Snowden himself possibly deciding to return to America, something he still could potentially do.

Since we have to assume that the Chinese and the Russians already have taken all the information that he had to offer, the United States should have no interest in seeing Snowden going off to other countries and even more widely distributing his secrets.

Probably Putin himself would not like to see this happen either since it would diminish the value of the intelligence that Russia has received from Snowden. Despite the developments Thursday, Putin might also see that the best outcome is for Snowden to decide for himself that he should return to the United States.

I have to think that our Russian friends can be very persuasive in making this argument, and I hope that Obama and his team are pursuing this more subtle and face-saving solution.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andrew C. Kuchins.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT