The problem is really of [Obama’s] own making. The appropriate response to Snowden would have been to promise him immunity from prosecution and allow him to return to America, where he could have testified to Congress. From a practical standpoint, the administration would have been better off with Snowden in America rather than back in Russia, where he can dribble out embarrassing information. Everything that Snowden has said appears to be accurate. The latest revelation concerns a computer program called XKeyscore that is one more step towards the omnicompetent state.
Leonid Bershidsky wonders why Putin “dragged out the process for so long”:
Some thought the Kremlin was looking for a way to ship Snowden out quietly to one of the three Latin American countries that have publicly agreed to receive him: Venezuela, Bolivia or Nicaragua. Others speculated that Russian counterintelligence needed the time to debrief him. The issuance of the asylum document suggests that the Kremlin has decided it can absorb the unpleasantness of keeping the fugitive — and if its special services did not get enough access to him at Sheremetyevo, they have plenty of time to milk him dry now.
Richard Sakwa insists that Putin’s “hand was forced”:
Offers of asylum in Latin American countries faced the logistical difficulty of getting him out. The forcing down in July of the plane of Bolivian president Evo Morales over European air space, on his way back from the G20 summit in Moscow, can effectively be described as an act of international piracy. As the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson notes about the various conventions defending the freedom to traverse international air space: “America tends to treat international law as binding to everyone except America”.
In that context, there was almost nothing else that Putin could do but offer temporary asylum. The hope will be that after a year some negotiated solution can be found that would rid Russia of its unwelcome guest.
Michael Crowley doesn’t see too many ways in which Obama can “punch back”:
[M]uch like China, Russia simply isn’t a country America can bend to its will. Especially not when oil, one of the country’s prime exports, are well over $100 a barrel, giving Russia the cash and comfort to project. And especially when America’s reputation around the world remains, shall we say, problematic.
As for Snowden, who knows what behind-the-scenes argument played out between Washington and Moscow. It’s possible that the battle for the NSA leaker became a proxy for any number of grievances, from Syria to trade the fate of suspected spies in one or both capitals. It was undoubtedly a fierce tug of war, one that America lost, and one that will send relations into an even deeper frost. Somewhere, Mitt Romney might be chuckling. When it comes to Russia, the joke is no longer on him.