Snowden, the former NSA contractor who fled the U.S. after blowing the whistle on the secret Internet surveillance program, PRISM, has been living in Moscow’s airport for weeks, unbothered by Russian authorities.
In many ways, he’s a bit of a liability for Russia. The White House has accused the Kremlin of providing Snowden with a “propaganda platform.” In a press briefing Tuesday, press secretary Jay Carney warned: “This should not be something that causes long-term problems for US-Russian relations.” South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham went so far as to suggest the U.S. should boycott next year’s Olympics in Russia if the country gives Snowden asylum.
Earlier this week, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, called Snowden an unwelcome gift. “Such a present to us,” he told reporters. “Merry Christmas.”
However, the mother’s request for Russia to swap Snowden for her son, a pilot named Konstantin Yaroshenko who was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in U.S. prison for drug trafficking, suggests one reason Putin might not be so eager to give the whistleblower up: he’s a powerful bargaining chip.
According to RT, the Russian government has called Yaroshenko’s arrest “groundless” and “politically motivated.”
Yaroshenko claimed he was unjustly accused because he wouldn’t give any evidence against Viktor Bout, a Russian man currently imprisoned in the U.S. for attempting to sell “heavy weapons” to Columbia. Russia’s foreign minister tried, unsuccessfully, to get the U.S. to extradite Yaroshenko.
Whether Putin would ever seriously consider such a swap is anyone’s guess. But protecting Snowden isn't his top priority, it seems. “Any activity of his that could damage US-Russian relations is unacceptable for us,” he said in a press conference this week.
In any case, the incident illustrates the precariousness of Snowden’s situation. The U.S. seems to want him in custody quite badly. Even if he does get to a country that has offered him asylum, that’s no guarantee it will never get revoked if the right deal comes along.
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