News / Europe

Snowden May Face a Tough Time in Russian Asylum

NSA leaker Edward Snowden got his temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.
NSA leaker Edward Snowden got his temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.
People who know about these things predict accused NSA leaker Edward Snowden will soon be very unhappy he chose Russia as the place to avoid prosecution in the United States on espionage charges.
Snowden was working as a computer network manager for the National Security Agency in Hawaii, but turned up in Hong Kong earlier this summer and began releasing information about secret electronic surveillance programs the agency uses to monitor telephone and internet traffic around the world.
Then when the United States started seeking his arrest and extradition, Snowden took a plane to Moscow, where he holed up in an airport international transit zone hotel while he tried to find a more permanent place to settle outside America’s reach.
There was talk of Cuba or Venezuela, but those didn’t work out. After a month, Moscow granted him asylum for 12 months despite fierce objections from Washington.
David Barrett, a national security expert teaching at Villanova University, says Snowden will soon find out, if he hasn’t already, that Russia may not be the ideal place for a self-proclaimed whistle-blower.
“One of the things that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin said when he spoke of the possibility of Snowden’s staying there, is that Snowden would have to be quiet,” Barrett said. “He would have to stop saying things and revealing things about U.S. intelligence.
“And I don’t think that that would be a very happy existence for Snowden if he had to live under those conditions where he could not speak to reporters and groups about NSA,” Barrett added.
'Gray unhappiness'

Peter Savodnik, an expert on Americans seeking asylum in Russia, says the Moscow authorities are good at creating what he calls “a sort of gray unhappiness.”
“The Russians specialize in that sort of thing where somebody shows up at your doorstep and there is something very pathetic about this. You have nowhere else to go - you are throwing all of your trust, your faith into the Kremlin,” said Savodnik, whose upcoming book is about Lee Harvey Oswald’s brief defection to the Soviet Union.
The Kremlin, Savodnik says, will “allow you to think for a while that you have arrived. And then, of course, you realize you have not.
“And then you begin to become a little bit crazy and mad, which is what happened to Oswald and what has happened to every single American who has defected or sought asylum in Russia…, Savodnik continued.
Oswald, you may remember, came back to the United States and in 1963 was arrested on charges of assassinating President John F. Kennedy, but was himself assassinated before he could go to trial.  
“I don’t think there has been a single case of an American who went to Russia since World War II and found the ‘happily ever after’ that he was looking for,” Savodnik said
As for Snowden, Savodnik says the Russians would want him far away as possible from the news media – and in the worst case scenario, they would send him to live in a remote region of the country.
Cleaning gymnasium floors?

“They will stick him in some Khruschevka [apartment buildings built in the 1960s] or some other Brezhnev-era dump,” he predicted. “He’ll clean the floors of some gymnasium or work in some broken down factory that is being propped up by the state and probably shouldn’t exist.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin says Snowden needs to stop talking about U.S. intelligence.Russian President Vladimir Putin says Snowden needs to stop talking about U.S. intelligence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says Snowden needs to stop talking about U.S. intelligence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says Snowden needs to stop talking about U.S. intelligence.
Wherever Snowden ends up, says Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at Washington’s Wilson Center, one thing is certain: no-one is going to trust Edward Snowden.
“Because it’s understood: this is someone who would betray their own country and so that’s hard to respect for most ordinary people, including Russians,” Rojansky said.
“That has been the fate of almost every westerner who has spied or defected and then gone to the Russians – they end up being quite isolated, and perhaps living comfortably if they stay for the long term,  but certainly not living well in the sense of being fully integrated in a part of their society.”
And Rojansky says the Snowden affair will inevitably affect relations between Washington and Moscow.
“The Snowden issue is going to remain on those lists that senior American officials take into negotiations for years to come,” he said. “It may not be at the top of the list, but it will be somewhere on there.
“And at some point, America will be able to offer enough to Russia and the circumstances will be right, and the media spotlight will have faded, and so maybe they’ll move him on to a third country,” Rojansky said. “He’ll spend some decent interval of time there and then suddenly he’ll end up in a courtroom in Honolulu or something like that.”
Analysts say there is no doubt Snowden would have a better life in a place other than Russia, but where that would be is anybody’s guess.

(Too see more of Andre de Nesnera's columns, click on the link below)

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: david le from: Toronto
August 25, 2013 11:50 AM
Snowden is never a respected hero to USA & any country. He is wrong ethically, morally and legally. Stealing and releasing the national papers are wrong. Freedom has limitations: nowadays, there are so many terrorists and evil groups. So, USA monitoring is necessary and right for USA & the World. Also, Snowden should stay in USA to face the consequences and different opinions from his points of view.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 24, 2013 12:26 PM
Russians are not fools to trust him 100%. For sure Russian authorities will first find out what sort of documents he leaked, its usefulness or otherwise to Russia. Russia will never give him the freedom he so desires. It would have been better for him to be in prison in USA, because Russia and Iran run the same type freedom and democracy that keep citizens and visitors watched round the clock. Far and above all that, Russia will hold him in serious suspicion in case he tries to pull off a stunt; what if his is a ploy to pull off a serious leak of Russian secrets?

by: Gerald Wilhite
August 23, 2013 10:41 PM
Andre, your observations sound prudent and logical for a typical person, but I don't think it necessarily fits Snowden. This young man is not 'typical' at all. Listen to him carefully, and read his first hand quotes in interviews. Snowden is the same kind of national asset that top German scientists were after WWII. On top of that he is very careful and wise beyond his years.

Many Americans, including myself, look forward to the day when he can come back home as a free citizen and respected hero.

by: Byron from: NYC
August 23, 2013 2:20 PM
There is so much that is wrong with this article. First, Snowden didn't choose on his own volition to go to Russia. He was transiting through the Moscow airport when the U.S. cancelled his passport. He had no choice but to stay. The viewpoint of the author is very jingoistic. Snowden did not betray his country. He is a true American hero whose acts of courage and bravery will result in a better America. Now, this VOA columnist can go back to sucking up to the military/police/surveillance state for which is an obsequious lap dog.

by: Magman1 from: Canada
August 23, 2013 2:04 PM
Snowden exiled himself in a different "prison'. Who will trust him enough to give him a good job? He will try and learn the language while working a menial job and living in sub-standard conditions. He will be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life. There are many countries that would have been favorable for him to live and work, Russia is not on that list. I would rather be in jail in the US than a "free" person in North Korea.

by: marc kase from: NW CT
August 23, 2013 6:58 AM
Or he could find a nice place and a couple of girl-fiends to help him pass the time, maybe get a job with the Kremlin as a double agent. Why does everyone think the U.S. is the only place in the world to live and be "happy", there is a great big world out there that gets along fine without America.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs