What Russia Has To Lose In The Snowden Case

Jun 30, 2013
Originally published on June 30, 2013 12:43 pm
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NSA leaker Edwards Snowden remains stranded at the Moscow Airport. A week ago, Snowden, who leaked secrets about the National Security Agency's surveillance activity, dramatically left Hong Kong. He's apparently hoping to get to Cuba or possibly Ecuador. But in the meantime, he's in limbo in Russia. All this got us thinking what does this mean for the U.S.-Russia relationship.

We've called up Matt Rojansky. He is the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Welcome to our program.

MATT ROJANSKY: Thanks, Linda, happy to be with you.

WERTHEIMER: Now, this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to rule out sending Snowden back to the United States. Why?

ROJANSKY: Well, I think, first of all, in the short term the Russians want to gain from whatever intelligence he has. And then secondly, there is a propaganda value to having him there. It allows Mr. Putin to say in striking contrast to the U.S. position on many Russians who have been put on various international watch lists and called political cases by Washington, this is a political case. You know, this is just Washington trying to have its cake and eat it too. And this allows Putin to say everything is a double-edged sword - Washington, enjoy.

WERTHEIMER: Would it be overstating it to say that it is central to Russia's foreign policy, or perhaps to Mr. Putin's foreign policy, to challenge American dominance in world affairs as often as possible?

ROJANSKY: I don't know that Putin sees this in ideological terms. But certainly he sees Russia as needing to be a decisive player. And so, the Russian role is kind of classically consistent with what Putin has always wanted it to be, as kind of the defender of global independence values - good values, transparency democracy - and also the problem solvers.

So the Russians, I think, today or tomorrow will be convening representatives of the Latin American countries that may be involved here: Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador with Russian and Chinese diplomats, and seek to be kind of the broker that solves the problem. And this supports Putin's image of Russia's foreign policy as a decisive global player.

WERTHEIMER: Does the United States have any leverage at all in this enterprise - any leverage over Russia? There's no trade relationship that really could affect things one way or the other, is there?

ROJANSKY: Yeah, if you look at this in the broader context, we now see the problem with treating engagement with any country as a reward for good behavior. So because we've been dissatisfied with Mr. Putin's conduct so far, we've ratcheted back our engagement on a whole host of issues. And so, it leaves us with far fewer tools than we might otherwise have had to influence Moscow.

Now that said, there was no guarantee in the first place. If this is a big enough priority and for the moment there's been a presidential-level commitment that he shall not be sent back to the United States, that's a pretty big priority. I'm not sure we'd be able to influence the Russians one way or another. I'm not sure the United States has enough to offer at this point.

WERTHEIMER: President Putin seems to take great satisfaction in needling the United States and he's enjoying this, it seems to me. Do you think that China is in some way more concerned about its relationship with the U.S., more serious than Russia is?

ROJANSKY: I think the key difference here is one of style. They got Snowden. They've got whatever information they needed from him; copies of everything electronic that he brought. They got to debrief him. No question, he was in the country for long enough. But they didn't really have to deal with the full fallout of that problem. And you see it, by the way, even in statements from American politicians. The sort of punitive attitude towards China is much more of an afterthought.

Most of the anger now - not surprisingly because it's more current - is directed towards Moscow. And the Russians embrace that. They are very comfortable with being the sort of alternate pole historically, and seeking to have this independent foreign policy. Whereas the Chinese style is, look, we got what we wanted, why would we want a confrontation over this? That's just going to cost us.

WERTHEIMER: Mat Rojansky is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thank you.

ROJANSKY: You're quite welcome.

WERTHEIMER: Tomorrow, we'll go to Scotland and the controversy featuring none other than Donald Trump. He's threatening to pull out of plans to build a luxury golf resort on the Scottish coast, even though he's already sunk hundreds of millions into it. That, and the day's top news on NPR's MORNING EDITION.

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