What Edward Snowden's Asylum Means For U.S.-Russia Relations: A Breakdown
Here's a fun foreign policy edition of he said/he said/he said for your Friday enjoyment. Right now, Washington is livid at Russia's decision to grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum, Snowden is delighted, and Russia is attempting to play the whole thing down. "This situation is too insignificant to affect political relations," Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said.
The tone of Ushakov's communication is just slightly different from the statement Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made to reporters.
Snowden weighed in on the matter too, predictably condemning the U.S. government and declaring himself and the law as winners.
So, what does Snowden's asylum mean for the U.S. and Russia? The fate of the two countries' relations is not totally clear, but the U.S. is in a tricky position and can't push Russia too much. The U.S. needs Moscow to cooperate on key foreign policy objectives, like maintaining pressure on Iraq's nuclear program. Here's what's on the table right now:
President Obama might back out of a September summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Obama is currently scheduled to meet with Putin in order to find common foreign policy ground on important objectives, such as ending the war in Syria, before the G-20 Leaders' Summit in St. Petersburg later that month. Now the fate of that meeting is unclear. "We are evaluating the utility of a summit," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Some lawmakers are calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which are set to take place in Sochi, Russia.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wants the U.S. to consider boycotting the Winter Games. "I love the Olympics, but I hate what the Russian government is doing throughout the world," he told NBC News Tuesday. "If they give asylum to a person who I believe has committed treason against the United States, that's taking it to a new level."
Graham went as far as to compare the situation to the pre-World War II Berlin games being hosted by Adolf Hitler's regime.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) disagrees. “Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can’t find a place to call home?”
Government officials are anxious about what Snowden may have told Russia about U.S. intelligence.
A U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal that "bartering" with U.S. intelligence poses a sizable risk. "That's something everyone's been worried about," the official said. "What does he have to trade to stay there?"
It's entirely possible that Snowden gave Russia information about how the U.S. infiltrates foreign government computers as part of his asylum deal. If that's the case, Russia and other government could use such information to evade U.S. surveillance.
Snowden's asylum indicates a declining influence for the U.S. vis-à-vis world affairs.
Russia first rejected U.S. appeals to give up Snowden, but Thursday's decision to grant him asylum reportedly caught the White House by surprise. It's a major snub, but not one against which the U.S. can take much action, since the Obama administration needs Russia's cooperation on foreign policy issues.
U.S. officials say one option is to scale back the Pentagon's use of transport routes from Afghanistan via Russia. However, doing so probably wouldn't even deal much of a financial blow to Russia, and it would increase U.S. reliance on Pakistan. American hands are majorly tied.
And as per usual, John McCain has a few things to say.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has a plan of his own. Calling Snowden's asylum "a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States," McCain said that the U.S. should speed up European missile-defense programs, increase human rights and civil liberties advocacy in Russia, and push for the expansion of NATO to include membership for the Republic of Georgia.
"Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin's Russia," he added.
That much is clear. What's less certain is what the U.S.' next move could possibly be.