Do Snowden and Browder matter?

Moscow News

The United States wants Snowden back, but Ambassador McFaul insists it’s not extradition, just “returning” him. I’m still not clear on the distinction between forcibly “returning” someone they don’t want to go and extraditing them, or maybe we’re in hoods-and-shackled rendition territory. In any case, even if with no great eagerness, the Russian government instead looks likely to grant his asylum request.

Meanwhile, Moscow petitioned Interpol to put out a “Red Notice” – an international arrest warrant – on financier Bill Browder, the man who seems to have replaced not-so-dearly departed Boris Berezovsky as the Kremlin’s bête noire. The body that reviews such requests, the snappily-named Independent Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files, decided that this was essentially a political rather than criminal case and declined the request. They had already rejected a “Blue Notice” that would have required member states to gather information on Browder and send it to the Russians.

And, of course, Moscow still regards arms dealer, convicted terrorist supplier and reputed Russian spy Viktor Bout, currently serving 25 years in a U.S. federal penitentiary, as a political prisoner and wants him back.

All of this obviously matters to the principals in question and also to diplomats, for whom this kind of dispute is meat and drink. But does it really matter in the big picture?

There was talk of President Obama cancelling a visit to Moscow in September…but even so, he still intends to be in St. Petersburg for the G20 summit, making this an especially laughable retaliation (maybe he would be worried about bumping into Snowden at Sheremetyevo, if the asylum case still hasn’t been decided?)

For all the Russians huffed and puffed about the Bout case, all they ended up doing was adding the names of some officials and lawyers involved with the prosecution to their “Guantanamo List” of individuals barred from the country. This was an obvious response to the U.S. Magnitsky Law which – thanks for Browder’s indefatigable advocacy – barred Russian officials regarded as involved with the death in custody of Browder’s lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and the crimes he was investigating.

The law undoubtedly irritated Moscow intensely. It also rattled an elite which has come to regard holidaying in European beaches, shopping in New York boutiques and sending their children to Western universities as an unalienable right. It is possible that similar laws may be enacted in Europe, but to be blunt, unless you happen to have persecuted the lawyer of a very rich, very determined hedge fund manager, then you are still safe enough.

So what are the lessons from all this? On the one hand, it might be concluded that the individual doesn’t matter in today’s interdependent world. Washington needs Moscow’s support on a whole raft of issues, or at the very least wants to avoid antagonizing it.

The Russians could, after all, be even more intransigent. Likewise, one of Vladimir Putin’s undoubted talents has been knowing just when to embody the surly bad boy persona – and when not to push his luck. Moscow’s place in the world is founded on a mix of hydrocarbons, bluff and everyone else’s desire to avoid trouble. Knowing that when the chips were down it would become clear just how weak Russia really is, his job is the keep the chips up.

But in the end, individuals do matter. For example, what if the principles of the Magnitsky Law, Browder’s brainchild, were applied more generally? If officials who appeared clearly corrupt were barred from the West, their foreign assets frozen and their families likewise blacklisted, they would be angry, but they would also take notice. Likewise, Snowden has changed the nature of the debate in U.S. politics about the role of surveillance and, to be blunt, how far the intelligence community mislead the public and even Congress.

In short, states like to talk about individual cases but rarely make policy around them. But individuals, deliberately or not, find ways to make states listen, to push policy in all kinds of unexpected directions.

Mark Galeotti (Twitter: @markgaleotti) is Professor of Global Affairs at New York University’s SCPS Center for Global Affairs and a senior analyst for Wikistrat. His blog, “In Moscow’s Shadows,” can be read at http://inmoscowsshadows.wordpress.com. The views expressed here are the author’s own быстрые займы на карту unshaven girl zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com unshaven girls

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