United Russia Party Congress Convenes

Vladimir Putin’s decision to poke the United States firmly in the eye over the Edward Snowden case requires a proportionate response. His belief that US-Russian relations can go on unmolested by this provocation needs to be disproven. No sincere partner in the world community would seize this opportunity to leverage world opinion against a flawed NSA spying program that looks in political danger in the Congress already. It’s preposterous to see this as anything but a piece of geo-political theater.

I cannot see how it benefits Snowden. He will be easily portrayed by his enemies, in classic fashion, as a defector to Russia after exposing secret information from the US government. A Communist “parliament” member who’s running for Moscow mayor just exclaimed:

Frankly speaking, he is a also like a balm to the hearts of all Russian patriots.

Why, unless the motive is pure anti-American animus. Snowden is not aiding the enemy, of course, any more than Manning was; he is just allowing himself to be used as a means of further humiliating and taunting his own government. And whatever the US government’s failings, it’s not a reasonable moral or political position to prefer Russia’s authoritarianism. Russia is not, to put it mildly, the model of transparent, accountable government Snowden says he believes in. Its own responses to Jihadist terrorism have been the pulverization of Chechnya and the arming of Bashir al-Assad – not exactly role models for liberaltarians.

It’s a no-win situation for president Obama, but he should not signal that this kind of mischief is no big deal for the US government. No summit meeting with Putin, then. And perhaps a wider review in the Congress of whether the US should attend the Winter Games in Sochi. Threats to arrest American athletes, if they are openly gay, is also something to be taken into account. The new Russian law – which could put an American athlete in jail for merely talking about his or her orientation in public – is a foul piece of work to which the US should not in any way acquiesce:

“An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi,” Vitaly Mutko said in an interview with R-Sport, the sports newswire of state news agency RIA Novosti. “But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”

Would the US ever participate in an international sports event where the host country is threatening to arrest foreign athletes if they exercize what would, in the US, be their First Amendment rights?

I have mixed feelings about Snowden. In his defense, he has clearly exposed something to wider public view that has resulted in a healthy and overdue debate in the public and Congress. But he broke the law to do it; and Russia’s embrace of him is a provocation that requires a proportionate response. That’s the only language Putin understands anyway. Time to reverse the pressure.

(Photo: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin participates in the United Russia Party congress on September 23, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. The congress is meeting to approve the list for Russian State Duma elections scheduled on December 4. By Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images.)