A website called Techdirt caught my eye when they ran an article ("Snowden Calls BS On Putin's Answer") interpreting and glorifying Edward Snowden's recent Guardian piece. The glorification is clearly for domestic consumption in the West, primarily in the USA and UK, and primarily for Snowden fans admiring his "bravery" even though "this story has never been about him." How much difference will this "calling BS on Putin's answer" article in techdirt.com make in Russia? Zilch (нулевой ).
So let's turn to Snowden's article ("Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama") where he is defending his participation in Putin's media event. First, the point is the same--a Guardian piece is not going to affect the debate in Russia, precisely because Putin has closed down the independent media that might have translated it into Russia and ran it in a major Russian news service (and Putin's regime is now even threatening to make bloggers register as news agencies).
Now, to the article itself ("Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama"). If we take it at face value, and believe that Snowden was consciously intending to set a trap for Putin by asking a question that parallels Senator Ron Wyden's question to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (and not that this article isn't yet more Monday morning quarterbacking/damage control), then we have to ask what kind of fantasy world is Snowden living in. There is no functioning democratic process in Russia that can seize on Putin's lying answer to Snowden's question, as Snowden seems to believe (and which makes the US democracy look pretty functioning in comparison). There will be no committee to investigate government surveillance and make their findings public. Putin's government officials who run spying and surveillance will not be called to testify. There will be no president who responds to the controversy and makes regular public commentary on the progress of the investigations and on the importance of the issue, giving it a healthy public debate, as Obama has done.
Can Snowden really not know what kind of place he's chosen to live in? Is he naive enough to think there's some kind of democratic equivalency between the US and Russia? Does he really imagine himself to be some kind of mastermind laying a trap for Putin? Because the springing of the trap would be some kind of robust response of democratic institutions and public voices in Russia. Guess what: that's not going to happen, just like it hasn't happened after any of Putin's egregious lies, outrageous statements or crude democracy-stomping actions.
Therefore, all that's left is what the Russian people will see--the American martyr for freedom who fled to Russia, making a public appearance with the Strongman Leader, as he helps create the illusion of open debate in a controlled propaganda broadcast. And all that does is help Putin.
Let's look in detail at Snowden's article:
Others have pointed out that Putin's response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader – a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists."Generously speaking." That's actually quite funny. He's being generous to himself! Because we'll see how "likely" it is to be "revisited by journalists" in a Russia where the independent media has been shut down. Snowden goes on about this:
Moreover, I hoped that Putin's answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.Again, mastermind Snowden is freeing the journalists and unleashing civil society. How, exactly, is unclear, since those journalists and that civil society have already been ground down despite much stronger catalysts than a softball question in a staged event designed to beautify Putin.
Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debateSnowden obviously means well, but this is pretty disgusting, really, insulting to the dissidents and journalists who have actually been murdered in Russia, who have spent time in prison for simple protest. Snowden imagines that he risked "family" or "life" (I suppose from silly articles like this) but this kind of self-proclamation reinforces the view that he lives in a comic-book world where he's the superhero, even though it's "not about him," oblivious to real examples of persecution all around him in his new home.