As President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin prepare for their historic summit in Helsinki, where they’re expected to try to work out a compromise that could open the door to Russia returning to the G-8 – or at least a softening of US sanctions – speculation is mounting that Edward Snowden, the former government contractor, who blew the lid off the NSA’s expansive domestic surveillance programs, is being considered by his Russian handlers as a potential bargaining chip, according to the Duran.
This, despite the fact that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly insisted that the Russian government has no plans to hand over Snowden to the US, where he would likely face a lengthy prison sentence.
“I have never discussed Edward Snowden with [Donald Trump’s] administration,” Lavrov told Channel 4’s Cathy Newman. He added that President Vladimir Putin had addressed the issue years ago, however.
“When he was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide. We respect his rights, as an individual. That is why we were not in a position to expel him against his will, because he found himself in Russia even without a US passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong,” Lavrov recalled.
Still, these implicit threats haven’t cowed Snowden from ceasing his criticisms of the Russian government.
In a recent interview, he slammed the “corrupt” Russian government and criticizing the country’s crypto-authoritarian (according to Snowden) President Vladimir Putin.
While Russia’s citizens are “warm and clever”, Snowden said he “strongly” disagreed with the government’s policies.
“I think the public feels disempowered. Russians are not naive, they know that state TV is unreliable. The Russian government is corrupt in many ways, that’s something the Russian people realize,” the 35-year-old told German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.
“Russian people are warm, they are clever. It’s a beautiful country. Their government is the problem not the people.”
After leaking thousands of pages of documents detailing top-secret NSA programs back in 2013, Snowden was famously granted asylum in Russia after his flight from Hong Kong made a last-minute emergency landing in Moscow. He faces three charges under the Espionage Act that could carry a combined sentence of 30 years in jail. Snowden can legally remain in Russia until 2020.
“There’s no question, it’s a risk. Maybe they don’t care, right? Because I don’t speak Russian…and I am literally a former CIA agent, so it’s very easy for them to discredit my political opinions as those of an American CIA agent in Russia.”
Snowden fled the US and his job at Booz Allen, an NSA contractor, in the spring of 2013, carrying a trove of documents detailing the NSA’s massive domestic surveillance programs. He initially fled to Hong Kong, where he started leaking his documents to the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald. The leaks were undoubtedly the biggest news story of the year – and possibly one of the biggest stories of the decade. A divisive figure in pop culture, Snowden has been praised by civil liberties advocates for exposing the intelligence community’s infiltration of US tech and telecoms companies, which allowed the NSA to hoover up sensitive personal information of American citizens.
However, Snowden has also been castigated as a traitor by the intelligence community, which has argued that he jeopardized sensitive programs and may have put the lives of America operatives at risk. Long before declaring his intention to run for the most powerful elected position in the West, President Donald Trump famously speculated that Snowden “would have been executed” during an era when the US was still respected and feared by its geopolitical adversaries and allies alike.