Edward Snowden in Moscow: A "Tasty Morsel" For Putin?


It's like a scene straight out of the film The Terminal: Edward Snowden, camped out in the Moscow airport until he's ready to make his next move. What happens next?

It makes sense for Snowden to bed down in Russia until he can reach his final asylum destination in Ecuador. Russia is not a friend of the United States, and feels no obligation to arrest or return Snowden. Putin and Obama do not share a close relationship, and Putin is not known for backing down easily. Most importantly, Russia and the United States do not share an extradition treaty.

Letting Snowden stay in Moscow for the time being is also beneficial to Russia, too. The United States and Russia have a tradition from the Cold War era of trading captured spies, such as the exchange in 2011 of admitted Russian spies for Western agents kept in Russian prisons.

Earlier this week, some Russian legislators suggested that Snowden could be exchanged for Viktor Bout, a Russian convicted for arms trafficking in the United States. However, there is no sign from Washington that the United States is prepared to make such a deal.

The only other thing that could convince Russia to extradite Snowden back to America would be a tradition of not rocking the boat. While Russia and America have been geopolitical competitors for decades, neither side has been willing to escalate tensions. It is unlikely that either Russia or America would be willing to risk important issues over a single extradition case.

Putin's recent comments seem to support this policy. He stated that Snowden had not yet gone through Russian borders and was staying in the transit zone for passengers with a layover.

"Mr. Snowden is a free man and the sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it will be for us and him," he said at a news conference during an official trip to Finland.

"I hope this doesn't in any way affect the nature of our relations with the U.S.," he continued. "I hope our partners understand that."

Not all Russians agree with Putin's remarks, however. It is speculated that Russian security agents have been debriefing Snowden, hoping for insight into American security forces.

"He is a tasty morsel for any, any secret service, including ours. Any secret service would love to talk to him," said a Russian security source.

"It would be silly to pass on such an opportunity to get information that is very difficult, impossible or expensive to get in any other way," said an ex-KGB officer, Lev Korolkov.