Maybe by the time you read this, some obliging country will have given intelligence leaker Edward Snowden asylum, perhaps with a tacit nod from the United States that it’s OK with Washington as long as the nation giving him refuge makes him shut up.
Snowden is believed to have been stuck since June 23 in the transit lounge of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, a specialist in Eastern Europe, recently described it as possibly “the most soul-destroying, angst-inducing transportation hub in the world.”
No wonder Snowden has applied for asylum in 21 countries, as Britain’s Guardian newspaper reports. These include Russia, which said yes – but with conditions that Snowden would surely find unacceptable. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who clearly wants Snowden somewhere else, said: “If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must cease his activities aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners, as strange as it may sound coming from my lips.”
However, the former National Security Agency contractor’s sole leverage is whatever classified U.S. information he hasn’t already leaked. In case Snowden didn’t get the hint, Putin said he was welcome to leave at any time.
The problem is finding someone who will take him. His country of first choice, Ecuador, whose embassy has been sheltering Snowden’s WikiLeaks patron, Julian Assange, shows signs of having second thoughts about granting him asylum.
President Rafael Correa said he would consider a request only if Snowden reached Ecuador or one of its embassies. However, Correa said his country would not issue a travel document and all but apologized for his consulate in Hong Kong issuing the travel permit that enabled Snowden to fly to Moscow. Correa said giving Snowden a travel pass was a “mistake” for which the consular official would be punished.
The next likeliest country is Venezuela. Its leftist president, Nicolas Maduro, had fine words for Snowden – he has “done something very important for humanity” – but no concrete promise of asylum.
Of the 21 countries, those that didn’t say no outright said asylum was unlikely or attached difficult conditions, such as requiring that Snowden be in the country first before applying for refuge.
The one country openly willing to take in Snowden is the United States, but he would have to face espionage charges here.