It’s been about a week since Edward Snowden’s epic blunder on RT in which he foolishly handed Vladimir Putin a major propaganda victory, then followed up the appearance by authoring a hamfisted clarification published in The Guardian. In the article, Snowden explained that his question wasn’t intended to be a softball for Putin, even though it ended up being exactly that, but instead it was meant to catch Putin in a lie and therefore touch off a debate about civil liberties in Russia, much like the rapidly dwindling debate in the U.S.
First of all, anyone with even a modest knowledge of Russia knows that its politics and press are extraordinarily different than in the U.S., so any similar debate is a non-starter. Indeed, Russia ranks more than 100 points lower on the 2014 World Press Freedom list (Glenn Greenwald’s Brazil ranks more than 50 points lower that the U.S.).
Therefore, and second of all, no such debate has been launched — at all. Additionally, in spite of a series of events in Russia this week, Snowden and his troupe have been conspicuously silent, even though a week ago they were ballyhooing Snowden’s efforts to launch a debate about Russia’s civil liberties violations.
So, what’s been happening this week?
1) Founder of Russia’s Facebook strong-armed by the Kremlin, flees the country.
Pavel Durov, the founder of Vkontakte (VK) — the largest social network in Russia — said on Tuesday that he fled the country one day after being forced out of the company, claiming that he felt threatened by Kremlin officials.
In a post on his profile page on Monday, Durov explained that he was fired from his position as CEO of VK and that the so-called “Russian Facebook” is now “under the complete control” of two oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin.
Durov explained that after seven years of relative social media freedom in Russia, his refusal to share user data with Russian law enforcement has set him at odds with the Kremlin, which has recently been trying to tighten its grip on the Internet, according to The Moscow Times.
Seems like this would be squarely in Snowden’s wheelhouse. The Kremlin demanded user data, PRISM-style, from Vkontakte. The social media network refused. So the Kremlin intimidated the CEO to the point where he’s forced to flee for his life. Based on his op/ed from last week, Snowden clearly has [cough] direct access to the pages of The Guardian. He also communicates directly with Greenwald who serves as Snowden’s mouthpiece on a regular basis. So why the silence? I’ll come back to this question presently.
2) U.S. journalist taken hostage by pro-Russia forces in east Ukraine.
Russian-backed insurgents in this eastern Ukraine town, a flashpoint in the tug of war between Moscow and Kiev, seized American journalist Simon Ostrovsky on Tuesday, claiming that under the “laws of war” they had the right.
“He was not reporting in a correct way,” said Stella Khoraeva, a former journalist and spokeswoman for the separatist leader Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the pro-Russian militant leader in Slovyansk, a rust belt industrial town on a tributary of the Donets River an hour’s drive from the Russian border.
Ponomaryov is a Putin-backed thug. He abducted Ostrovsky because the VICE reporter was covering news that made Putin look bad so he was abducted by Ponomaryov’s goons (likely Russian military). This is press freedom Russian-style. In fact, given Russia’s history of outright murdering journalists, Ostovsky is lucky — so far. Yet again, where’s Snowden with his Constitution chromakey backdrop?
By the way, Ostrovsky wasn’t the only journalist to be detained by Putin’s army of Ukraine sock-puppets this week.
3) Russian spy planes chased from skies over U.K. coast.
A pair of Russian surveillance planes flew close to UK airspace on Wednesday, forcing the RAF to scramble jet fighters.
The Russian plane, reported to be Tupolev 95s, were detected flying off the coast of Scotland. The planes turned away from Britain after the RAF dispatched Typhoon jets from Leuchars airbase, near Dundee.
I suppose if this had been, say, Norway spying on Russia, we’d hear about it from Team Snowden.
4) Russia introduces plan to spy on university students.
Russia’s education ministry has proposed a new anti-terrorism law calling for continuous monitoring of Internet use in schools and universities, a measure which critics say is aimed stamping out dissent.
According to the text of the bill published Thursday by the Ministry of Education, school and university officials should “analyse the personal sites of students and personnel” and compile reports on those “who have a tendency towards breaking the rules”.
The bill also says it is their responsibility to “continuously monitor the Internet” in order to collect data on “terrorist activities” in their region.
Mr. Snowden? Anything?
This is all news from the past three days. So, getting back to a point I made earlier, why the silence? As I’ve written before, trespasses against civil liberties are bad… unless there’s something in it for you. Snowden needs Putin. Greenwald needs Dilma Rousseff and the Brazilian government. (Speaking of which, did Greenwald ever comment on this story?) I’m almost certain that Snowden’s cover-your-ass article in The Guardian last week was probably the last we’ll hear from him about what his benefactor Mr. Putin is up to — all while Snowden is conveniently holed up a few miles away, sipping vodka with his FSB lawyer Anatoly Kucherena.