The Cold War is Back

Written on June 27, 2013 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, Asia, Foreign Policy, International Conflict, Terrorism & Security

Edward Snowden adds to U.S., Russia chill

By Anne Applebaum


For those who think that Edward Snowden deserves arrest or worse, cheer yourselves with the thought that Sheremetyevo International Airport might possibly be the most soul-destroying, most angst-inducing transport hub in the world. Low ceilings and dim lighting create a sense of impending doom, while overpriced wristwatches glitter in the murk. Sullen salesgirls peddle stale sandwiches; men in bad suits drink silently at the bars. A vague scent of diesel fuel fills the air, and a thin layer of grime covers the backless benches and sticky floor. It’s not a place you’d want to spend two hours, let alone 48.

Yet there he remains, a guest of the Russian government. Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both have repeated the fiction that Snowden “did not cross the Russian border” because he remains in the transit zone at Sheremetyevo. But as of Monday evening, Snowden was in violation of Russian law, which requires anyone staying in the airport longer than 24 hours to have a valid transit visa. Whether Russian authorities have given him a visa or are allowing him to break the law, they have made a deliberate decision to let him remain there, assuming they are not holding him against his will.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has appealed for Snowden’s extradition on grounds of “respect for the rule of law.” Although the United States has no extradition treaty with Russia, Kerry has pointed out that it has transferred seven people to Russia in the past two years to honor Russian requests. For the moment, the Russians seem disinclined to respect the rule of law, which is not surprising as they don’t respect it at home. The last time a prominent former Russian secret service agent escaped to the West, Russian agents poisoned him with polonium 210, leaving a trail of radiation all over London and Hamburg.

Too much remains opaque, and too much reporting seems sensationalized, to draw conclusions of what this affair says about the National Security Agency — except that it is shockingly bad at protecting supposedly secret information. But something interesting has been revealed about the nature of contemporary international relations. In this narrow sense, the Cold War is back: We are once again dealing with a Russian government that sees the world ideologically, in black and white. What’s bad for us is good for them, and vice versa. If Snowden is embarrassing to the United States, he should be protected as long as possible. If we think Bashar al-Assad is cruelly and recklessly destroying Syria, then Russia will lend him support. If we fear Iran’s nuclear program, then Russia will help build it. Read more…

As published in www.washingtonpost.com on June 26, 2013.


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