As the NSA leaker continues to linger in the Moscow airport and seeks asylum in Ecuador, Max Fisher profiles a dissident that the South American country once sheltered, a Belarussian whistleblower:
Belarus is the last remaining dictatorship in Europe. Alexander Barankov was a policeman in the capital city of Minsk, in the financial crimes unit. He uncovered what he believed to be systemic government corruption. Barankov saw evidence that top Belarus officials, including the president, were illegally smuggling energy resources to fund their personal bank accounts. When state security caught on to him, he fled, first to Russia (sound familiar?) then to Egypt and, finally, Ecuador. Like Snowden, he started spilling his country’s secrets online and, eventually, won asylum.
Here’s the hitch: unlike Assange, who was sheltered by Ecuador’s London embassy as soon as he fled there from house arrest, Barankov had to push for three years before he won asylum.
That’s actually not unusual for non-famous asylum-seekers, including those who land in the United States. What’s unusual is that in June 2012, Ecuador’s government arrested Barankov and held him for 84 days as it considered Belarus’s long-standing extradition request. The timing was strange; Barankov had been in the country for years at that point. But Time’s profile points out that he was arrested just three weeks before Correa met with Belarus’s president, the same man whom Barankov had publicly accused of corruption. The Time story suggests that Correa’s government may have used Barankov “as a pawn” to ease tension with Belarus.
That’s a problem for Snowden. So far, Russia has parried US demands to extradite Snowden on the basis that he hasn’t officially entered the country yet. Even if he did, though, the US and Russia don’t have an extradition treaty in place. Besides, Vladimir Putin is having far too much fun at the Obama administration’s expense …
Realistically, the Russians could seize him in the airport if they desired, but it might be a little embarrassing for Putin to do so now after he and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stood on the technicality for the last couple of days. If Snowden officially enters Russia — which he would need to do in order to get to the Ecuadorian embassy — then all bets are off. However, even that’s problematic, as his American passport is no longer valid. Ecuador could supply him with a new passport, of course, but they’d have to do that before he got to the embassy. It doesn’t sound as though Ecuador is in any rush to do that, even if it would make Snowden feel a little more at home in Ecuador if he arrives there at all.