If asked, Moscow says, it would consider granting Edward Snowden asylum

June 11, 2013

Edward Snowden (GUARDIAN/GLENN GREENWALD/LAURA POITRAS)

MOSCOW — When Edward Snowden, self-confessed leaker of classified information about U.S. surveillance programs, said he would seek asylum in a country where free speech was protected, it raised a question for many in Moscow. Was Russia on his list?

In its Tuesday’s editions, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported it had asked President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman if Snowden, reportedly in Hong Kong, could find sanctuary in Moscow.

“We will act upon a fait accompli,” said Dmitri Peskov, who speaks freely on behalf of Putin. “If the request is filed, it will be considered. There can be no subjunctive mood in such cases.”

Snowden mentioned Iceland in his interviews with reporters, but not Russia, perhaps for good reason. Washington-based Freedom House, in a report this year, called Russia “not free.” On paper, the constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but as the report points out, “Vague laws on extremism make it possible to crack down on any speech, organization, or activity that lacks official support.”

Still, the idea of an American citizen seeking protection from his own government quickly piqued interest -- and speculation -- in Moscow.

"By promising asylum to Snowden, Moscow would undertake the protection of persons persecuted for political motives,” Alexei Pushkov, chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, tweeted Tuesday.

Such a move, Pushkov continued, would challenge the United States's self-image as the global haven for political refugees. “The U.S. would be hysterical,” he wrote.

Before heading toward the nearest Russian consulate, however, any would-be asylum-seekers should remember this: It’s pretty easy to end up in Siberia – it takes up more than half the country.

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Max Fisher | June 11, 2013