Streetwise Professor

September 4, 2013

Vova and SWP are on the Same Page: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:17 am

Putin has been ubiquitous the last couple of days, with the impending G20 meeting which he is hosting in St. Petersburg.  He is eating up the attention, giving interviews laden with provocative, and sometimes nutty, statements.  For instance, responding to one question regarding what Russia will do in the event of a US-led (OK, US) attack on Syria by saying “do you work in the media or for the CIA?” (I’m surprised he believes these are somehow exclusive categories!)

One remark stood out.  For a while I’ve been saying that it was a huge mistake to revoke Snowden’s passport, thereby marooning him in Russia.  Anywhere would be better than Russia, for two big reasons.  First, we would be more likely to be able to get our hands on him just about anywhere than in Russia.  Second, he-and whatever he carried with him-is a potential intelligence bonanza for Russia.

To which Putin agrees in part, and lies about the other part:

Mr. Putin, who was in the KGB during the Soviet Union, criticized that decision as poor tradecraft as it stranded Mr. Snowden in Russia where U.S. agents would be unable to get to him.

“Representatives of the American special services–and I hope they won’t be angry–but they could have been more professional, and the diplomats as well. After they found out that he was flying to us, and that he was flying as a transit passenger, there was pressure from all sides — from the Americans, from the Europeans — instead of just letting him go to a country where they could operate easily,” he said.


As for the lying part, Putin denies Russia obtained anything useful from Snowden (h/t @catfitz). Indeed, we appear to have dueling disinformation operations going on here, with Russia claiming it got nothing from Snowden because the NSA changed everything (as if) and the NSA claiming it doesn’t know even close to fully what Snowden took (which may be true, but is likely exaggerated and may be part of a plan to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the minds of Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras, Appelbaum, Assange, et al).

As to Putin’s chiding US “tradecraft”-classic case of rubbing our noses in it. which he relishes.  He’s right, and he’s basically saying: you guys screwed up big time, and made sure that this tasty fly had to land on my web and couldn’t escape it.  I’ll feast on him at leisure, denying all the while I’m getting anything out of the meal.  Just to keep you all guessing.

This interpretation is predicated on the view that Putin is being honest regarding his surprise at Snowden turning up in Moscow.  Skepticism is warranted, but definitive proof that would make him a liar is lacking, as is information regarding whether Snowden was a Russian asset (witting or unwitting) even before going to Hong Kong.  But even if Putin would have had no intention of letting Snowden board a flight to Havana even if he did have a valid passport, we made Putin’s job a lot easier for him by giving him the perfect excuse to detain Snowden indefinitely.  This is why I said that even after the initial mistake-which I will admit is somewhat understandable, given the fluidity of the situation-we should have called Putin’s bluff and restored Snowden’s passport.

But we didn’t.  And now Snowden is permanently ensnared in Putin’s web, and Putin gets the added bonus of being able to give the Nelson laugh to the US.  Well played. (That statement is ironic when applied to one party, literal when applied to the other.)

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