On June 23, Edward Snowden arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, then presumably en route to Ecuador. But instead, he wound up with an incredibly harsh layover. Now, just a bit over a month later, and one week after he formally applied for asylum in Russia, Snowden reportedly has been granted papers to leave the airport and enter Russia proper.
From there, nothing gets any easier. For anyone.
This is certainly true for Edward Snowden. Russia does not currently seem like his final destination. So far, there are at least three countries that have offered to give him asylum: Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. How Snowden gets to any of those countries, though, is a major question mark. That's especially true after what happened to Bolivian President Evo Morales' recent flight from Moscow, which was stopped and searched in Austria. And Snowden would face a serious problem avoiding American airspace if he decided to make his way to Latin America. Snowden's support in the U.S. is also markedly down, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. In June, a 48 percent plurality of Americans opposed charging Snowden. In the latest poll, 53 percent are in favor of criminal charges.
For Russia's Vladimir Putin, life gets a bit more complicated. Putin may enjoy being a pain to the United States, but seriously damaging Russia's relations with the U.S. isn't in his interest. And he knows that. Earlier this month, Putin said that Snowden would be allowed to stay in Russia only if he stops "his work aimed at damaging our U.S. partners, no matter how strange this sounds coming from me." Since then, Putin has repeatedly said that he will not let Snowden harm Russia's relations with the U.S., and he clearly would like to see Snowden permanently wind up elsewhere. How all of that meshes with Snowden now being free to enter Russia remains to be seen.
Of course, then there's the United States. President Obama has tried to play down Snowden's importance, but there's no question that the U.S. would really like to see him in custody. Washington will have to walk a careful line with how to handle Moscow from here. Apparently, American officials are has already been considering canceling a summit between Obama and Putin this fall, and the Snowden dispute wouldn't be the only reason. As the Obama administration prepares to take a stronger stance on Syria, Putin has continued to be one of Bashar al-Assad's most powerful backers. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Assad would never rule all of Syria again. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., has already suggested that the U.S. boycott the 2014 Olympics in Russia. The U.S. needs to find a way to come to some agreement with Russia.
The last thing Russia-U.S. relations need right now is another complicating factor. Edward Snowden entering Russia is absolutely that.
But, hey, at least Snowden will be able to finally get out of the airport. Mohammed Al Bahish, who has been stuck in Kazakhstan's Almaty International airport for more than 120 days gets to keep his terrible record.
(Image via Flickr user ncabral)