There’s a risk that Durov’s offer could be a ploy designed to curry favor with the authorities. VK, often used by the Russian opposition to rally supporters, has been under official pressure of late as part of a broader crackdown on activism.
Snowden might be better off sending his résumé to Kaspersky, the Russian computer security firm that competes globally with the likes of McAfee and Symantec to develop weapons against cybercrime.
If he is looking for a fresh start professionally, Snowden might indulge his interest in anime with a job at one of Russia’s animation studios that are trying to revive the glory of the Soviet era. A 1960s cartoon featuring the jug-eared creature Cheburashka became the inspiration for Pokemon in Japan as well as a symbol for the liberal intelligentsia in Russia.
Snowden is probably allergic to airports by now, so if he wants to explore a country as vast as Russia, he’ll want to start with somewhere nearby. Fortunately, St. Petersburg, one of the world’s most enchantingly beautiful and cultured cities, is less than four hours from Moscow on the new high-speed Sapsan train.
Russia has never gone in for freedom in a big way, and St. Petersburg, the former seat of the imperial czars and epicenter of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that overthrew them, is redolent with the history of libertarians who paid a high price for their convictions.
Snowden might like to visit the Peter and Paul Fortress and see for himself where the Decembrists, a group of liberal-leaning military officers who plotted to overthrow the czar, were incarcerated in 1825.
Snowden has described himself as a Buddhist, so a pilgrimage to Kalmykia — a barren steppe land bordering the Caspian Sea and the only region in Europe where Buddhism is the dominant religion — would be an obvious choice if he wants to venture into the Russian wilds. Kalmykians have been begging the Kremlin to risk China’s ire and let the Dalai Lama visit, so Snowden for once would be seen as a second-tier fugitive.
According to his lawyer, Snowden has said that he misses his girlfriend, so he might steer clear of romantic adventures for now. Still, there may be temptation.
Anna Chapman, the celebrity Russian TV hostess who was expelled from the United States for espionage in 2010, appeared to express interest.
“Will you marry me?” Chapman tweeted on July 3, as a despondent Snowden mulled over his prospects on the eve of Independence Day.
Gorst is a freelance writer.