As the saga of fugitive Edward Snowden continues, reports that he has sought refuge in Moscow have caused many to warn of consequences for US-Russian relations. The Interpreter asked Russia expert and author of Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West, Edward Lucas, for his take on the situation.
The Interpreter: What is your impression of the politics behind Edward Snowden’s stay in Moscow?
Edward Lucas: This episode exemplifies American weakness and Russian anti-Americanism. The fact that America failed to catch Snowden while he was in Hong Kong is an embarrassment. For Snowden to then arrive in Moscow is a propaganda trophy for the Kremlin—they can pretend that Moscow is somewhere you seek refuge from persecution.
I think there’s a separate question of whether this has been an intelligence coup for the Russian authorities—some reports have suggested that the Russian authorities may be seeking to treat him as a defector and get information out of him. I think this is unlikely—I’m not sure how valuable the information he has would be in terms of cryptography, which is what they would be interested in. But in the meantime it’s nice for the Russians, because Sergei Lavrov [Russia’s Foreign Minister—Ed.] can say that the American programme is outrageous and intrusive, and turn attention away from the grotesque activities of the FSB.
The Interpreter: Will there be any significant deterioration in relations between the US and Russia as a result of this situation, as people like US Senator Chuck Schumer have suggested?
Edward Lucas: I think the US will shrug this off, like they did with the Ryan Fogle case [the American diplomat accused of spying for the US by Russia—Ed.]. Obama doesn’t want Russia to be a problem, he doesn’t want trouble, and it’s my guess that that will continue. In the meantime, the Russians will make an enjoyable fuss over it.
The Interpreter: Do you have any predictions about how this scenario will unfold?
Edward Lucas: I think Snowden will end up in Ecuador or Cuba. If he were to actually defect to Russia, that’s where there would be potential for real fallout between the US and Russia, but I don’t think that’s likely. There’s also the possibility that he may be tempted to parlay what he knows into securing some kind of plea bargain with the US authorities, or he may escalate the situation by selling his secrets. But he may discover soon that he’s not happy living this refugee lifestyle.