“We’re extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and in private to have Mr. Snowden expelled to the United States to face the charges against him,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. He added that Barack Obama might now boycott a bilateral meeting with Putin in September, due to be held when the President travels to St. Petersburg for a G20 summit on September 5-6.
“Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife,” says Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). He urged Obama to insist on moving out of Russia the G20 summit.
Russia’s action is a “disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States… a slap in the face of all Americans,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said. “Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin’s Russia, he added. Mc Cain and his GOP colleague Lindsey Graham suggested the United States should retaliate by completing all missile-defense programs in Europe and proceeding with further expansion of NATO to include Russia’s neighbor Georgia.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) predicted that Snowden is “going to want to get back to the United States in any way possible after he realizes what it’s like to live in a totalitarian state.”
We are not going to discuss now which is more “totalitarian,” Putin’s Russia or Obama’s America; my views on the kind of society we live in are presented here. We are also not going to join the “Traitor or Hero” debate on Snowden. Two technical points need to be made in the context of the White House and Congressional reactions to Snowden’s Russian asylum: (1) America has granted asylum to the Chechen “foreign minister,” the spokesman for one of the most barbarian regimes in recent history, who is wanted in Russia for terrorism; and (2) America “renditions” Russian citizens from third countries to have them tried for crimes allegedly committed in Russia without informing the Russian authorities.
Imagine the No. 3 leader of a terrorist separatist movement in southern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, a group guilty of murdering thousands of unarmed Anglos—airline passengers, theatergoers, women, hospital patients, and schoolchildren—being granted political asylum in Russia and living openly for over a decade in a posh part of Moscow, courtesy of Russia’s taxpayers. One can only imagine the paroxysm of rage in the White House and on the Hill. Diplomatic relations would be severed. McCain-Graham would urge nuking Russia.
No needs to imagine much, just reverse the roles. Ilyas Akhmadov, foreign minister and chief global media advocate of the short-lived “Chechen Republic,” until 2000 was the third highest-ranking leader of that blood-soaked monstrosity, after Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basayev. To take but one exampke, he was directly responsible for the atrocities of the Chechen terrorist regime, including the invasion of the Russian Republic of Dagestan in the summer of 1999 when hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children were murdered. According to the UNHCR, 32,000 people were driven from their homes. And yet Akhmadov was granted political asylum in the United States in 2003, in spite of Russia’s repeated and amply documented demands for his extradition for a variety of terrorist offenses. As Professor Robert Bruce Ware asked eight years ago (“Response to Brzezinski,” Johnson’s Russia List, March 20, 2005), if the U.S. was right to declare the entire Taliban government a terrorist organization, why is Russia not right to declare the self-designed Chechen government—Akhmadov included—a terrorist organization?
If we would think it wrong of Russia to grant political asylum to Mullah Omar, then why do we not think that it is wrong for the United States to grant political asylum to Illyas Akhmadov? Why didn’t Illyas Akhmadov resign from the Chechen government when Dagestan was invaded? … Exactly what record is there that Illyas Akhmadov ever issued a public statement repudiating the invasions of Dagestan while those invasions were in progress, or supporting the extradition of the invasions’ leaders? If the 9/11 [attacks] made Bin Laden a terrorist, and if the Oklahoma City blast made McVeigh a terrorist, then why didn’t his public acceptance of responsibility for the Ingushetia raids make Aslan Maskhadov a terrorist? And if his public acceptance of responsibility for those raids made Maskhadov a terrorist, then why doesn’t it implicate those who represented him, such as Illyas Akhmadov, in charges of terrorism? And if it does make Illyas Akhmadov a terrorist then why is he enjoying political asylum and a prestigious professional position at the expense of the American taxpayer?
“Harboring terrorists, their henchmen and sponsors undermines the unity and mutual trust of parties to the antiterrorist front,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the U.N. General Assembly in 2004. “We cannot have double standards while fighting terrorism and it cannot be used as a geopolitical game,” President Vladimir Putin declared in December of that year. But Maskhadov remains in his Wodley Park mansion in Washington D.C. to this day, courtesy of your tax dollars. Back in 2004e was also given a generous State Department grant that enabled him to maintain an office with a secretary at the National Endowment for Democracy, to keep a busy travel schedule,e and to retain the services of a PR agency.
Akhmadov is an utterly nasty piece of work, so much so that in 2004 then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), and the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee chairman John Hostettler (R-IN) jointly demanded that Attorney General John Ashcroft review the ruling that granted Akhmadov political asylum. “If the United States had evidence that Mr. Akhmadov was involved in terrorist activities, it is unclear why he was not barred from asylum as a terrorist and as a danger to the security of our nation,” they wrote to Ashcroft in September of that year—but to no avail. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that one of the happiest days of my life was when I called Ilyas to tell him that he would be able to stay in America,” averred America’s über-Russophobe Zbigniew Brzezinski, as quoted by Akhmadov’s publicist and Zbig’s nephew Matthew in the Washington Post (March 20, 2005).
It would be equally interesting to imagine the reaction of McCain et al. if Russia routinely resorted to the arrest of American citizens in third countries—Belarus or Kazakhstan, say—and their extradition to Moscow for trial on various charges. That is exactly what the U.S. is doing to Russians. The most recent case concerns Aleksander Panin, a 24-year-old Russian computer programmer from Tver. Panin was arrested at the airport after visiting the Dominican Republic in May, swiftly transferred to a Federal prison in Georgia, and charged with a variety of cyber crimes committed in Russia—and all that without Moscow’s consent or knowledge. The case only became known a month later. “Of course, we are seriously concerned with yet another arrest of a Russian citizen with a U.S. warrant in a third country… The fact that such practices are becoming a vicious tendency is absolutely unacceptable and inadmissible,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “We have repeatedly told the US that if there are demands for our citizens, it is necessary to send relevant requests to the Russian law enforcement authorities on the basis of the 1999-bilateral agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal cases. However, this is still not being done.”
There are several cases similar to Panin’s. On July 22 Dmitry Ustinov, a Russian citizen, was extradited to the U.S. from Lithuania and accused of smuggling night-vision goggles. In November 2010, Russian citizen Viktor Bout was extradited from Bangkok to the United States, where he was convicted of involvement in the illegal arms trade. In May 2010 a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, was arrested in Liberia and taken to the U.S. on charges of drug trafficking. In 2011 was sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
The practice of having Russian citizens arrested in some pliant third country and delivered to the U.S. to be tried for alleged crimes committed outside America is a legal novelty which has the potential to create a great deal of trouble for U.S. citizens, too, and especially for American businessmen working in the former Soviet Central Asia. But as the cases of Snowden and Akhmadov indicate, all too many people in Washington still act in accordance with Madeleine Albright’s psychotic doctrine of imperial exceptionalism—“we are America, we are the indispensable nation”—which is as profoundly un-American as it is irritating to the rest of the world. (Another gem of hers is “I’ve never seen America as an imperialist or colonialist or meddling country.”)
The delusions of late-imperial grandeur die hard, but in the fullness of time they will die nevertheless; the sooner, the better.