The only surprise in the US-Russian contretemps over the treasonous Edward Snowden is the extent to which the behavior of both countries has been utterly void of surprises.
In today’s Russia, where power is increasingly growing out of the barrel of the gun (as well as out of the barrel of crude) and where the regime’s legitimacy is founded mostly on bribery and fear, few — if any — things are more welcome than a chance to stand up to the US. The United States has long been declared by the Kremlin as Russia’s sworn enemy, scheming relentlessly to undermine the country’s sovereignty and plotting, with the fifth columnists (i.e., pro-democracy opposition) to overthrow the regime. As with Beijing, Quito, or Havana, baring the lower backside to America by defying it on an issue that captures the world’s attention is seen in Moscow as a great domestic boon, a shot in the arm, and a ticket to crowing and preening rights.
Not only has Russia flatly refused to extradite Snowden to the US, it has also hinted at “considering” his request for political asylum. “Promising Snowden asylum,” the chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee Alexei Pushkov tweeted two weeks ago, “Moscow takes upon itself the defense of people persecuted for political reasons.” “There will be hysteria in the United States,” he added gleefully.
Anyone expecting Moscow to suffer repercussions for its actions is likely to be disappointed. Far fatter thumbs have been merrily stuck by Russia into America’s eyes lately — from supporting the murderous Syrian regime to vicious anti-American propaganda in the official Russian media to the harassment of the US Ambassador Michael McFaul — with no visible impact on the soft and pliant tones emanating from Washington.
The administration’s seemingly inexhaustible patience with bad boy Vladimir stems from the hope that he will consent to another bilateral strategic nuclear arms reduction, thus taking President Obama a big step closer to his dream of “a world without nuclear weapons” as declared in his 2009 Prague speech. Arms reduction is by far the most important goal of this White House’s Russia policy. Everything else is secondary, if not tertiary.
When, at a joint press conference with Putin following a US-Russian summit “on the margins” of the G-8 meeting in Northern Ireland last week, President Obama issued yet another plea for a round of arms reductions (Putin, stone-faced, said nothing on the matter), he coupled the entreaty with the description of the gulf between the US and Russian positions on Syria as “differing perspectives on the problem.” I thought that, stretched to the breaking point, the euphemism of “differing perspectives” will for a long time mark the deepest rhetorical genuflection before the Kremlin.
Did I say “contretemps”? No, as far as the US is concerned, just a bit of a kerfuffle, a slight disagreement between “friends.”