Putin Allies Have Field Day With Snowden Case In Russia

Kremlin allies on Russia's Human Rights Council are having a field day with the case of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. They say the United States is seeking to punish Snowden for advocating government transparency and peoples' right to privacy. In short, after taking criticism from the U.S. over Russia's human rights for decades, Russia is taking the opportunity to dish it out to the U.S. Analysts in Moscow say that regardless of what information Snowden may provide to Russia, his propaganda value is huge.

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The man who has admitted to leaking secret documents is still in a transit area of a Moscow airport, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Before that, Edward Snowden spent weeks in Hong Kong. President Obama said today that he's not willing to start wheeling and dealing with Russia and China over the fate of Snowden. Speaking in Senegal, Obama says he has not contacted Chinese or Russian leaders about the affair.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And the reason is because, number one, I shouldn't have to. This is something that routinely is dealt with between law enforcement officials in various countries.

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But Russia appears to be in no mood to make nice with the U.S. on the topic of Snowden as NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Putin noted that Russia has no extradition treaty with the United States and said Snowden is free to go where he pleases. Meanwhile, Putin allies in Russia are having a field day with the case. They say the United States is seeking to punish Snowden for telling the truth about illegal U.S. government snooping.

Kremlin-friendly think tanks and human rights groups have had lots of praise for Snowden, calling him an advocate for government transparency and Internet privacy. Kirill Kabanov, a member of the president's human rights council said the former intelligence analyst should not be handed back to the United States.

KIRILL KABANOV: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: In fact, he says, the council should appeal to President Putin to offer asylum to Snowden in Russia. President Putin has shown no inclination to do that, but some Kremlin watchers say there may be interest in having Snowden stay a while.

Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, says he believes Russian intelligence agents are, in his words, working on Snowden with an eye to finding out what's on his computers.

DMITRI TRENIN: I believe that people in China started looking into that. That's only natural for the security services, intelligence services to look into that kind of stuff.

FLINTOFF: Trenin says there's also a chance that some in the Kremlin may see an opportunity to swap Snowden for Russians who've been convicted in the United States, such as Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. But security analyst Andrei Soldatov says Snowden may be even more valuable as a pawn in a different game.

ANDREI SOLDATOV: Because actually, Snowden provides very good ammunition for the Russian argument over who should control the Internet.

FLINTOFF: The Russian government has been trying for some time to exercise control over global Internet services that are used by Russian citizens, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. The idea, Soldatov says, would be to give Russian intelligence agencies the same latitude to snoop on the services' users as the United States apparently had. He said those companies may be easier to deal with now since they have been tainted by Snowden's revelations, raising suspicions that they have closely cooperated with American intelligence services.

In the meantime, Dmitri Trenin says the length of time that Snowden has been staying in the airport transit area suggests it may not be so easy to send him to another country.

TRENIN: If no other country accepts him, then he will have to stay. And I understand that the United States is applying tremendous pressure on all countries that might conceivably offer an asylum to someone like Snowden.

FLINTOFF: And so far, Ecuador has said it's considering an asylum request from Snowden. Today, Ecuadorean officials angrily renounced a U.S. trade preference worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They said the United States is trying to blackmail them.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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