The Snowden Showdown

A monitor over a Hong Kong street informs a crowd that Edward Snowden has left China Credit: Business Insider

A monitor over a Hong Kong street informs the crowd below that Edward Snowden has left China.
Credit: Business Insider

Taking a break from his usual style of dismissive ambiguity, Jay Carney minced no words Monday when he condemned China for allowing a wanted American fugitive to leave the country. ”We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official,” Carney said during the morning’s White House press briefing, adding, ”This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.”

China’s northern neighbor also came under fire for allegedly accepting America’s most wanted. Russian foreign officials rejected US demands for extradition and claimed to have no knowledge that could aid America in its manhunt.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is the man behind the maelstrom, and despite sweeping international efforts, his exact whereabouts remain unknown. Authorities maintain that he boarded a Russian commercial flight in Hong Kong Sunday morning and touched down in Moscow shortly after, where he briefly laid low while rumors of his next destination swirled. Officials confirmed that Snowden has applied for asylum in Ecuador, but whether he will settle in the South American nation is unclear, as the US has promised ‘consequences’ for countries that offer their fugitive assistance. Snowden’s decision to leave Hong Kong reportedly came after he learned that he could spend years in a Chinese prison during the process to determine his asylum status. In what can only be interpreted as a slap in the face to the United States, the Hong Kong  government provided ‘unobtrusive police protection’ to Snowden as he went through the airport on the way out of the country.

Despite near certainty that Snowden’s next stop was Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied Russia’s involvement in the exchange. “We do not have anything to do with either Mr. Snowden or his relations with the U.S. justice system or his travels around the world. He decided on his itinerary independently, and we found out, like most of you have, through mass media,” Lavrov said. “He never crossed the Russian border, and we consider unfounded and unacceptable the attempts we see to accuse Russia of violating the U.S. law and conspiracies, or the threats addressed to us.”

Secretary of State John Kerry warned the Russian government against harboring Snowden, saying, “I would urge them to live by the standards of the law, because that’s in the interest of everybody.” In the same statement, he noted that the United States has handed seven prisoners over to Russia during the past two years- though the comparison is not entirely fair, because those prisoners were already being held by the US government, and Snowden is not in Russian custody. Kerry openly mocked Russia’s record on speech repression, saying sarcastically during a recent stop in India, “I wonder if Mr. Snowden chose China and Russia as assistants in his flight from justice because they’re such powerful bastions of Internet freedom.”

President Obama and Russin President Vladimir Putin at a joint press conference in Dublin last week. Credit: Newsbusters

President Obama and Russin PresidentVladimir Putin
Credit: Newsbusters

The United States and Russia share a delicate and strained relationship, especially given recent developments in the ongoing conflict in Syria. Snowden’s transnational flight has only exacerbated tensions between the powers-tensions that were on display during last week’s G-8 summit in Ireland, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin and Obama could hardly make eye contact after some reportedly frosty interactions and ‘blunt conversations’ behind closed doors.

The lack of cooperation between the United States and the nations involved with Snowden’s escape is an icy indicator of America’s standing in the international community. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño brazenly attacked the administration for its heavy condemnation of Snowden this week. “The one who is denounced pursues the denouncer,” he said at a press conference in Vietnam. “The man who tries to provide light and transparency to issues that affect everyone is pursued by those who should be giving explanations about the denunciations that have been presented.” America’s stern warnings to potential sites of asylum for the leaker seem to be brushed off by official after official as the international stand-off escalates with each passing day. Columnist Charles Krauthammer argued to that point on Special Report, “If there’s no element of respect or fear - and you saw it in the summit with the head of the United States and head of Russia and China within the last two weeks - they care nothing for what Obama says, and they know that when he makes a threat, it carries no weight behind it.”

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