Geopolitical phenomenon or provocation?
As the long, strange saga of Edward Snowden comes to a close, what impact will it have on U.S. relations with Europe and Russia?
People hold portraits of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden (left) and U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning in front of their faces during a protest in Berlin, on July 4, 2013. Photo: Reuters
The case of former CIA analyst Edward Snowden has been on the front pages of major newspapers all over the world on a daily basis for three weeks now. However, as time goes by, the affair looks more like a slapstick comedy than a political scandal.
The lack of balance between Snowden’s status and the importance of the data that he leaked has been apparent since the scandal erupted. Based on the political impact that he has caused, it seems Snowden is just a ‘front person’ who may not be fully aware of his real role. It looks like the second-tier CIA analyst has been used by those in opposition to incumbent president Barack Obama as a way to spoil the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Obama’s opponents have largely succeeded. There is reason to believe that the ‘telephone data’ was the real reason why Obama had to postpone the announcement of his proposals to further cut arsenals of strategic weapons, although some proposals had been expected to be voiced at the summit. As a result, the arms cut proposal, which had been designed to put Russia – and President Putin in particular – in a difficult position, lost its relevance and was easily parried by the Russian side.
On the other hand, it would be a mistake to assume that Snowden delivered a deadly blow to Washington’s reputation. He damaged the enviable reputation of President Obama, who has been perceived as someone capable of reintroducing almost forgotten democratic values to U.S. politics.
People would have been far less shocked to learn that the George W. Bush administration was tapping the phones of its allies. That was something that everyone could expect from a Republican administration. However, expectations for Obama are totally different and so is the reason why he was hastily presented with the Nobel Peace Prize.
We can’t say the scandal has damaged the strategic relationship between the United States and the European Union. Does anyone really think that the modern European elites are ready to have a spat with the United States because it is keeping a close eye on the integrity of its allies? At the end of the day, Washington has every right to do so.
If the European Union were really badly hurt, European nations wouldn’t be looking for Snowden on board of the Bolivian president’s jet so eagerly. The strategic partnership between the United States and the European Union builds on such a strong political and economic dependence of the European states on Washington that not even ten Snowden affairs can shake it. Incidentally, it was the European Union, and not Washington, that remained tactfully silent and then created an international scandal by quarrelling with what seems the entire Latin American region.
There’s a good chance that Washington will profit from the scandal. Amid some quite controversial recent initiatives (the Taliban talks, its unwillingness to interfere in the Syrian conflict and cooling of its ties with Turkey), some phantom conflict would come in handy to distract the political elites, the media and experts.
The Snowden saga in the Moscow airport is a good lesson. Everyone would be happy, especially the United States, if some country offered Snowden asylum. In other words, everything would be easier if some other country dealt with the ‘headache’, agreed to be placed under Washington’s propaganda pressure, and become a target for criticism.
Interestingly, Snowden was a lot more willing to end up in a European Union country than Venezuela, Bolivia or Cuba. For one thing, he didn’t seem particularly happy to get an invitation from Venezuela. Snowden missed a dozen chances to go to a country that would not extradite him to the United States, while seeking asylum from the nations that would hardly grant it to him.
A perfect scenario for Snowden would be to get asylum in Russia. And it seems that this is the option the ‘analyst’ himself hinted at most strongly through all channels, primarily Wikileaks. This impression only became stronger when Snowden missed his flight to Cuba for some strange reason and stayed at a Moscow airport.
In other words, it was Russia that was supposed to let this ‘headache’ into its territory, give more reasons to demonize itself and then live with this ‘headache’ while having no chance to shape the media activity of the ‘champion of democracy’.
The fact that Russia agreed to asylum only under certain conditions outlined by President Putin, especially the cessation of Snowden’s anti-American campaign, has disappointed Washington.
What lesson can be learned from the Snowden affair? No one will be safe under the cover of secrecy in the age of information transparency, even those who believe they enjoy a technological advantage. Information society is a dangerous double-edged weapon that can decide when to attack on its own.