Snowden Airport Saga Polarizes Russian Human Rights Community

See our special coverage Snowden: The US is Watching You

After spending almost a month unseen in the international transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden met with representatives of Russian human rights organizations and Russian MP Vyacheslav Nikonov. During the Friday June 12, 2013 public appearance, Snowden made a brief statement, and took questions from the assembled journalists (full audio available here [en and ru]) at what was termed a “G9 meeting.” Snowden criticised his government's secret courts, overarching system of surveillance, and the diplomatic campaign aimed at preventing him from finding political asylum. He also announced his intention to take asylum at any country that could ensure his security, and thanked those countries that have offered him assistance:

Even in the face of this historically disproportionate aggression, countries around the world have offered support and asylum. These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.


A mob of journalists descended on Sheremetyevo airport Friday for the Snowden press conference. YouTube screenshot.

A mob of journalists descended on Sheremetyevo airport Friday for the Snowden press conference. YouTube screenshot. July 15, 2013

While the Russian government has come out in tacit support of Snowden's asylum rights, Russians themselves are divided [GV] on whether he is a genuine whistle-blower or a hypocritical traitor. Snowden's press conference (video clip below) has re-ignited the debate.

In a blog post [ru] for the independent Ekho Moskvy radio-station, journalist and human rights activist Natalia Gulevskaya directed her ire at the Russian human rights activists that had met with Snowden, claiming they were state-sponsored and self-centered hypocrites:

Из собравшегося правозащитного бомонда штатных и внештатных агентов Кремля в транзитной зоне аэропорта Шереметьево никого особо не интересуют граждане России, которые погружаются в репрессии, судебные, административные и физические расправы.

None of the human-rights-defending crème de la crème of official and non-official Kremlin agents, who have gathered in the transit zone, hold any interest for the citizens of Russia, who are drowning in repression, in legal, administrative and physical violence.

Political commentator and human rights activist, Marina Litvinovich was even more scathing, writing on her blog [ru] that Snowden's meeting was nothing more than a “typical secret service operation” that “decent people and decent human rights organizations refused to take part in.”

Pavel Chikov, head of the the legal defense NGO “Agora” [ru] and member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, was also suspicious of Sheremetyevo airport's new found enthusiasm for helping human rights activists, tweeting [ru]:

Помнится, в декабре 2011 года аэропорт Шереметьево задерживал и незаконно (суд потом признал) изымал ноутбук у директора Ассоциации ГОЛОС

I remember, in December of 2011 [after the Duma elections] Sheremetyevo Airport arrested and illegally (as determined by a court) seized a laptop from the director of [election monitoring group] GOLOS [ru]

The idea that Snowden's stay in Russia is closely monitored and controlled by the Russian secret services has permeated the discourse to such a degree, that when Nikita Batalov, a radio journalist, found [ru] a suspicious door in one of the Sheremetyevo terminals, he automatically assumed that this is where Snowden was being held:

И теперь главное! На одной из маленьких дверей в терминале Е бумажка со скотчем с надписью “СПЕЦОБЪЕКТ ФСБ РОССИИ, ВХОД ЗАПРЕЩЕН”

And now for the main bit! One of the small doors in terminal E [where Snowden held his press-conference] is labeled with a scotch-taped piece of paper “RUSSIAN FSB SENSITIVE SITE, NO ENTRY”

Pro-Kremlin activist and blogger Kristina Potupchik thought that the real hypocrisy lay with the human rights groups that had refused to speak up for Snowden. In a blog post entitled “Edward Snowden, Why is the Opposition Keeping Quiet” [ru] Potupchick mockingly wrote.

Почему молчим? Почему не требуем от кровавого режима в срочном порядке без каких-либо условий предоставить убежище герою, рассказавшему миру правду о нарушении прав человека и подвергающемуся за это преследованиям на родине??? Это же ваша тема! А может быть, они молчат потому, что это СОЕДИНЕННЫЕ ШТАТЫ АМЕРИКИ? Или кто назовет иные причины?

Why are [you] keeping quiet? Why aren't [you] demanding the bloody regime to immediately and unconditionally grant asylum to this hero, who has told the whole world about human rights violations and who is being persecuted for this by his homeland??? This is the kind of thing you do! Or maybe, they are quiet because it's the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA [that is doing the persecuting]? Or can anyone offer another reason?

Some bloggers who are usually critical of the Russian government, also side with Snowden in this instance. For example, the mockingly fake Twitter account of Russia's former grey cardinal Vladislav Surkov criticized [ru] perceived attempts at intimidation by the Americans:

Интересно, как США отреагируют на потенциальное выдвижение Сноудена в кандидаты на Нобелевскую Премию Мира?… Разбомбят Швецию?

I wonder how the USA will react to the potential nomination of Snowden as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize?… Bomb Sweden?

The writer and blogger Boris Akunin also thought [ru] that if what Snowden uncovered is true, he deserves the support of the Russian opposition, regardless of all the “fuss that our officialdom has started around him.”

We are often accustomed to thinking that civil society is, while not apolitical, primarily above the dirty business of party politics. Some of those present at Snowden's press conference can be linked to the Russian government, but others, like Tatiana Lokshina of the Human Right's Watch, who wrote an account [en] of the meeting, have consistently criticized the Russian government in the past. A broad refusal of Russian human rights defenders to speak out favor of Snowden, can leave them open to charges of hypocrisy, even though they may find it distasteful to help someone who categorizes Russia as “the first to stand against human rights violations.” With the ever-tightening regulation [GV] of Russia's NGO sector, its human rights defenders may have to decide which is more important: being consistent on a range of issues, or trying to prevent the Kremlin's from scoring a few PR points.


  • It’s not that Snowden “polarized” the human rights community, it’s that WikiLeaks, hand in glove with the Kremlin all along and bringing him on board with the Moscow fellow travellers’ circus, has always pressured liberals to become more radical and tried to discredit centrists and conservatives. Mission accomplished.

    It’s not that the community is “polarized” — a notion that seems to put Snowden is the company of the virtuous at the center and everyone else arrays around him left or right — it’s that he is the extremist on the far left with nihilists and anarchists, and Putin is able to coopt him, if he hasn’t scripted this caper from the beginning.

    Groups aren’t “polarized” — some are are outright tools of the Kremlin, some are coopted for various self-serving interests, and some have become too craven to the neo-progressive line to be decent any more. Using the euphemism “polarized” pretends that there is some honest difference of opinion, but figures like Olga Kostina are not about different debating positions.

    Tanya Lokshina is doing her job and is sincere enough, but she’s in a cynical and manipulative context not only when the Kremlin is running the circus, but when her bosses at Human Rights Watch are playing “reset” with Obama. Today’s the anniversary of the day Tanya’s colleague Natalya Estemirova was murdered the morning after she stayed with her in her home; that’s the reality of Russia. That’s the point from which the moral compass should be set, but it is broken, and we get this shameful indulgence in radical chic. Human Rights Watch has surely lost its way.

    Human Rights Watch has not found any facts regarding Snowden’s allegations, and nobody else has. Human rights work begins with real cases, real victims, not sweeping ideological generalizations. Let’s start with Snowden telling us who the suspected hacker’s girlfriend is who he claims was bugged by the NSA, and let’s take it from there verifying those facts, shall we?

    • Mark

      Perhaps Putin also wrote the software code for PRISM, inspiring Snowden to snap and blab its secrets to the world, including the current government’s domestic spying on Americans while assuring them that those bad old days went out with Bush. My God, what a long-term planner that man is! Is there no end to his evil genius?

      I’m glad to hear that human rights work begins with real cases, real victims, not sweeping ideological generalizations. However, I doubt that worthies such as William Hague, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice are going to be as supportive, since sweeping ideological generalizations are pretty much their stock in trade in their attempts to direct and manipulate public opinion. And always have been.

      • Did you come up with a case yet, Mark, or are you still blathering? And distracting from the essential points here with hyperbole and ridiculous statements like Putin writing software code. My God, Putin wrote the script for how to handle Snowden and now he’s applied for asylum, that should be enough to make the point without having to resort to silly ideas about software code.

        None of the leaders you have cited have made any sweeping generalizations about the NSA, but don’t let facts get in the way of your 15 minutes of hate.

        • Mark

          Have you any evidence that Putin “wrote the script for how to handle Snowden”, or is that just another sweeping generalization? Or, alternatively, is it just because Snowden happens to be in Russia, instigator of all bad things and ruled over by the King of Evil himself? It was clever of Putin to lure Snowden out of Hong Kong and convince him to connect to Cuba through Russia; I’d love to hear your theory on how that came about.

          In fact, it has been the USA’s hamfisted handling of the situation throughout the process which has resulted in Snowden being where he is, beginning with its arrogant orders that any country holding him turn him over at once despite whatever shock that country might feel at being the subject of yet more prying by the USA, progressing through its chop-licking anticipation of what it was going to do with him when it got him (thereby assuring that any country in which he sought sanctuary could not in good conscience release him to certain persecution) and concluding with the jaw-dropping foolishness of forcing down the Bolivian president’s official aircraft so some American flunky could inspect it.

          I’m sorry, I failed to notice you had specified that the sweeping generalizations you spoke of were restricted to commentary on the NSA. Oh, look; that’s because you didn’t. In fact, you said “Human rights work begins with real cases, real victims, not sweeping ideological generalizations.”

          Are you prepared to defend the perspective that none of the leaders I mentioned have made any sweeping ideological generalizations about Human Rights? I certainly hope so.

          • Putting together the timeline of the Snowden affair, you see much that involves basically destabilizing the Merkel government and aiding the Social Democrats, which is of course Putin’s wish. Not to mention above all undermining the US, which has been a consistent and aggressive program for years.

            You also see key events in Russia — Magnitsky posthumous trial, Navalny trial, etc. that are distracted from by the Snowden affair with its key events intersecting.

            It’s trivial for Putin to get involved with Snowden, because he is already involved in WikiLeaks through the notorious figure Israel Shamir, and through Assange himself, who has his own show on RT and any number of Kremlin agitprop helpers. And that’s just the visible side of the Kremlin/WikiLeaks connection. WL has never exposed Russia in its leaks. No accident comrades.

            You’re using the usual agitprop tactics of trying to accuse the victim of the things that in fact the perpetrator has just done. The idea that the US has done something wrong when the US government is what has been hacked viciously in the first place with aid to enemies is absurd. The US has every legal right to pursue a hacker charged with espionage and revoke his passport. There’s nothing “ham-handed” abuot that; what’s actually ham-handed, if you think of Snowden’s perspective, is clumsily jerking around from Hong Kong to Moscow and then claiming to want to go to Venezuela, really. Then…why didn’t he go there in the first place?! Why didn’t he go to Iceland when offered? It’s absurd.

            The US orders aren’t “arrogant” but normal, and are part of the typical business of international affairs. The US would do no less if there was a wanted hacker of the Bolivian state. Which there isn’t and maybe that lets you know what this is really all about, weakening an already-open state “because you can”. That is the hacker’s agenda.

            Er, chop-licking? Snowden committed a crime which he himself acknowledges. It is more than fine to pursue him and prosecute him. What’s jaw-dropping about forcing a plane down if you think a felon is on it? Russia would do no less.

            I don’t know what you’re babbling about in your last paragraph but because you’re anonymous, you’re not worth much time.

          • Mark

            It’s so tiresome to have to explain everything.

            One: Putin wants to destabilize the Merkel government? Why ever would he want to do that? Of all the European leaders, Merkel alone flew to Russia to discuss trade and investment with Medvedev when the dust of the short, sharp conflict with Georgia had barely settled.


            Germany is Russia’s biggest European trading partner. Stability for Germany must be a key priority for Russia. When Putin smacked the assembled leaders of the G8 one by one earlier this month for their stance on regime change in Syria, Merkel supported him. Putin would be a fool to inveigh against Merkel’s government, and he is not a fool.


            Two; WikiLeaks has never exposed Sweden – does that mean Reinfeldt is part of the WL Secret Board of Directors? I don’t recall them ever releasing any diplomatic cables relating to Portugal, either – is Silva in it up to his neck? Is everyone who has never been the subject of WikiLeaks’ revelations in on the game? Come on. Russia has not been “exposed” because it has no obvious ambitions to world conquest and generally minds its own business, unlike the troublemakers exposed by WikLeaks, who pursue their own global agenda under the guise of “spreading democracy”. That was a key goal in Libya – see any democracy there now? The suggestion that Putin is personally involved with WikiLeaks, substantiated by the logic that Russia has not been the target of scathing denunciation is a cry for a dunce-cap intervention.

            Three: the USA claims its snooping program is legal. Technically, it just might be, within the United States, although domestic surveillance was always the province of the FBI, at least on a Federal level. But it certainly is not legal in Germany for the USA to spy on Germans, nor is it legal in the UK for the USA to spy on Britons, although the English are such bootlickers that anything Uncle Sam does is just all-righty with them. But never mind that – the American position is that PRISM is perfectly legal. That so? If it is, why the hullabaloo over getting Snowden for exposing a legal surveillance program? Do you really think terrorists are unaware the Americans are listening to their phone conversations? None of them are that stupid. Did it help catch the Tsarnaev brothers? Show me the phone intercepts that clued in the American police, will you? They couldn’t be bothered even when they were specifically warned, by Russia.

            World leaders have diplomatic immunity. The USA’s defense for its amazing behaviour regarding the Bolivian president’s plane is that only the president enjoys immunity, not the plane. I suppose that means they could not search his person to see if he was hiding Snowden under his clothing. I can only imagine the fury from Americans if the Chinese forced down Air Force One and made Obama stand on the tarmac while they searched it for a Chinese dissident. Nothing jaw-dropping about that from your viewpoint, though.

            Four, you’re well aware of why Snowden does not now flee to another country – because Russia is one of maybe two places on the planet he will be safe without having to worry that a drone overhead will kill him or that a CIA snatch squad will tumble out of a car at the curb and grab him off the street. Either option would be completely viable anywhere in South or Central America.

            So far you are long on bombastic rhetoric and short on refutations. The final paragraph addresses your lofty dismissal that you have never heard of any of the world leaders I named has made any sweeping generalizations about the NSA, but not to let that get in the way of my 15 minutes of hate. I never mentioned the NSA. I said they make sweeping generalizations about human rights, which is also exactly what you said; human rights, not the NSA. It’s only “babbling” if you’re unable to follow it, which apparently you are.

          • 1) You’re not paying attention. Germany is Russia’s big trading partner; Merkel isn’t. The Russians would prefer more pro-Russian forces like the Social Democrats and that’s obvious. The war with Georgia was a long time ago. Russia does what it wants on Syria regardless of what anyone says. Read the Carnegie Europe conference programs and German press if you want to see more about how the shift to the SDs is happening.

            2) Let’s see. Sweden is just so important in world politics! If they had a cable that related to the narcissistic Assange, they might have published it, but they didn’t. Portugal? These are the lamest arguments I’ve ever heard. WikiLeaks has never exposed Russia — period. Instead, they’ve had a hugely sleazy Russian representative up to all sorts of agent provocateur antics:


            To pretend that Russia has no imperial ambitions is to be wilfully blind about everything Russia does to make bids for power if not serve as spoilers to the US or China. See Central Asia. See Syria. See Africa. See Iran. Again — wilful ignorance.

            The US doesn’t have to “spread democracy”. People themselves spread it regardless of whether you like it or not (and you don’t, if you treat manifestations of it as merely CIA plots;you sound like Putin).

            3) The Germans spy on us and others as well. Do some Googling on the subject.

            4) PRISM looks to be legal, necessary, and not at issue. Er, perhaps it’s because your friend Snowden claims he can expose agents’ names and take down the NSA in “an afternoon” — something he’s almost certainly lying about — that the USG would like to have him returned. But then there’s that expose of the response to Chinese hacking. When were you going to mention that?

            5) You are strangely — or not, given your reprehensible views — incurious about the fact that Russia, which assassinated at least one if not three of the people Tamerlan Tsarnaev associated with last summer, never saw fit to tell the FBI that “hey, that guy with a green card over here was hanging out with some people we offed.” That was vital, and they didn’t tell the US — and one has to wonder why. Tsarnaev was watched and his social media scanned, but it was not enough to arrest him due to civil rights concerns. Of course, had the FBI known that Tsarnaev was hanging out with people the Dagestan intelligence now openly says were deliberately assassinated as terrorists, hey, that might have made a difference. So please stop your huffing and puffing about bumbling US gum-shoes, the problem is in cunningly deliberate actions on Russia’s part to “let nature take its course”.

            6) The obsession with supposed “horrible, shocking” actions re: pressure on Latin Americans and the Bolivian plane are all a distraction from the glaring fact that your friend Snowden has *defected* and is in the hands of the FSB/GRU etc. now and has been for weeks. This hollering about “infringements” is a dodge. China would be unlikely to try such a stunt because then the US would likely a) return all the students and professors studyingi n the US b) pressure companies to bring factories home c) not pay its debt or other responses.

            7) The notion that a drone will kill Edward is absurd, and is taken from the pages of this infantile narcissistics own playbook, as nobody else has claimed it but him. All of you fussing and fuming about Latin America can never explain while your pal Ed didn’t go there in the first place. Well?

            8) You’re still not making sense with your sputtering about sweeping generalizations regarding human rights. I guess one shoudn’t be surprised that abusive regimes don’t make generalizations about human rights? If they do, they’d be hypocritical.

          • Mark

            You’re just being facetious with your suggestion that Germany is not Merkel; at present the SPD is struggling with record low ratings


            while Merkel is riding a popularity high.


            Russia might want an SPD government, although you have provided no evidence this is so; it might also want pine needles to turn into gold, but the Russians are nothing if not pragmatic and what they do not want is German instability.

            Likewise, you are deliberately not getting it on Sweden – I never implied it was a political heavyweight, but mentioned it mockingly as one of the dozens of countries Wikileaks has not “exposed”. Does that mean they are all in cahoots with Assange and Putin? Are all the countries not taken to the woodshed by Wikileaks part of some dark anti-American plot? You are beginning to see Putin under the bed. Possibly accompanied by Assange.

            You’re quite right that democratic values spread on their own. However, the U.S. government does not hesitate to label its efforts to destabilize foreign governments which get in the way of its agenda as “spreading freedom and democracy”. How free is Libya, now that al Qaeda is running it? Thanks, NATO.

            I see. If other people do it, it’s OK for America to do it – is that your argument? I imagine Germany does spy on America, in the usual way; through embassy officials and phony diplomats. What it does not do is tap into main telephone trunks and collect data on the telephone calls of ordinary Americans, because those are of no interest to Germany. America, on the other hand, cannot know enough about what used to be the private lives of its citizens, and it was that which inspired Snowden to spill the beans – he does not give a rip about America’s spying on foreigners, and reveals details of those efforts only to gain sympathy with the countries who are the objects of U.S. spying efforts.

            So warning the USA that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was hanging out with Dagestani fundamentalists and activists was not enough for the FBI, is that pretty much your case? Civil rights, my ass. Civil rights did not stop Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield from being arrested for the 2004 Madrid train bombings despite the fact – easily verifiable, I would think for a service with the resources of the FBI – that he had not been anywhere near Spain, or outside the USA in a decade.


            The FBI is pigheaded and stubborn, and if a warning that a particular American citizen was hobnobbing with terrorists was not enough, the announcement that Russian services had killed a couple of them would hardly make a difference, what a crazy idea. Would that have dropped all the barriers to infringement of civil rights and made the whole picture clear? Does Russia have to add killing to the equation to be taken seriously? You’re just trying to blame the Boston bombings on Russia by suggesting they knew what the Tsarnaevs were going to do better than the FBI did (which apparently would not be hard) and failed to fly to the USA and arrest them for the FBI.

            If PRISM is legal, necessary and not at issue – why is it a secret? Has it headed off any terrorist plots? Ha, ha; as if. Why can’t the U.S. government simply announce up front that there is no such thing as privacy any more, and if you use any communication device, the government’s surveillance operatives are listening in, so don’t get too intimate on the phone? Once again, spying on other countries is not an issue – as you have pointed out yourself, everybody does it. What is not kosher is snooping on your fellow citizens while you trumpet giddily how free they are.

            Snowden was in fact on his way to Ecuador via Cuba when he landed in Russia. He could go no further because (a) the USA revoked his passport, (b) U.S. pressure on Ecuador caused it to withdraw its offer of asylum although he already had a travel document issued by the consulate, and (c) American antics and bluster subsequent to that convinced him it would be unsafe for him to leave Russia. He did not ever intend to remain there and only sought political asylum when it became clear he could not leave without significant risk of being captured.

            Of course you’re right that the USA would never kill Snowden with a drone; it was a crazy idea, I don’t know what made me think of it.


            Never mind the sweeping generalizations about human rights; it’s a waste of time pursuing it further, you obviously can’t even remember what you said and I’m getting tired of trying to set you straight.

          • The SPD’s ratings and Merkel’s popularity may not reflect political changes in the making.

            I don’t share your views that there is some vast significance in the
            fact that WikiLeaks hasn’t exposed Sweden; and you’re distracting again
            from the fact that it never exposed Russia, yet Assange has made it a
            political home and now Snowden is making it a literal home, so there.
            Er, I don’t have to look under beds, I just have to look on RTV to see
            Assange and every other TV to see Snowden.

            The OIC was happy to
            have the US involved in Libya. They and most of the world outside the
            “progressive” corridor would rather have Libya as it is now than have
            Qaddafi, which wasn’t sustainable. Qaddafi is the one who enabled Al
            Qaeda to be there and brought the situation to what it was to require
            intervention. Thanks, Qaddafi.

            The references to Germany also
            doing spying is to cut some of your indignant outrage down a peg since
            it is so misplaced with its laser-like focus on America only. Again,
            when the NSA collects meta-data, it collects it for the purpose of
            matching patterns of terrorism and other crimes. It is not delving into
            personal correspondence with sense and meaning — or consequence.

            I see you still don’t hvae a case.

            it was not enough — because the FSB knew that Tamerlan had hung out
            with people *it had assassinated*. Duh. That’s a pretty big lapse. Of
            course it is civil rights that prevent the FBI from arresting people on
            the basis of their jihadi videos on Youtube or their anti-American trash
            talk in the comments. Yes, it is.

            It doesn’t matter if the FBI
            is pig-headed and stubborn, although we don’t know that. What matters is
            that Russian intelligence would have tracked Tsarnaev very closely,
            they knew more than they are telling us, such as to suggest complicity,
            if nothing else in the form of cynically letting nature take its course.

            wouldn’t have to fly to the US to arrest a guy who was associating with
            three of their jihadists they themselves killed, you know? They could
            arrest him in Russia. They didn’t. That was quite extraordinary given
            the enormous amount of arrests and tortures and disappearances they are
            engaged in, in Dagestan


            looks like the Muhtorov case is related to the metadata collection
            program, yes. If you’re worried about citizens being free, start with
            your complaints to Google or Facebook, as they are the collectors of the
            data above all, and least accountable.

            Snowden could have
            STARTED by going to Cuba or Venezuela instead of Hong Kong, or flown
            from there to Latin America. He didn’t. That is why all your huffing and
            puffing about him as a victim of evil America taking his passport away
            is so hugely lame. Here’s a guy that hacked the US and damaged national
            security and he thinks no one will respond?!

            No, the US would
            not kill Snowden with a drone. He didn’t plan attacks on their soldiers
            on battlefields as those in Yemen did. BTW, you don’t seem to have a
            plan for what to do with terrorists like that.

  • […] Snowden’s increasingly bizarre stunts are having the fascinating side effect of alienating many Russian human rights activists. Specifically, the activists who are not funded by the Kremlin […]

  • […] 15 July A Saga de Snowden no Aeroporto Polariza Comunidade dos Direitos Humanos Russos [en] […]

  • […] Snowden Airport Saga Polarizes Russian Human Rights Community […]

  • […] today to cancel his one to one with President Putin was all about Russia’s decision to offer Snowden asylum. That decision though is really about tipping points, as the White House itself made clear. […]

  • […] today to cancel his one to one with President Putin was all about Russia’s decision to offer Snowden asylum. That decision though is really about tipping points, as the White House itself made clear. […]

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.