In a meeting with Russian Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow two weeks ago, I was told in no uncertain terms that Snowden’s arrival was a surprise to Russian officials and could only have been concocted by the United States. Under their theory, the United States waited until they knew Snowden was airborne to cancel his passport, which resulted in his being stranded in a Moscow airport like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.
While doubtful, this scenario is at least not a complete impossibility: it is highly unlikely that a recently revoked passport would be detected at the time of Snowden’s boarding in Hong Kong. In addition, Russia does not require a transit visa for Americans as long as they are connecting in the same airport, which Snowden was apparently doing. However, if the allegation that Snowden went to the Russian consulate in Hong Kong is correct, it makes the unlikely story of his accidental arrival in Russia implausible.
As you may imagine, I found the Russians’ story of being surprised by the Snowden arrival to be absurd. The Foreign Ministry went on to tell me that Russians were “divided” on the matter, that they had no choice but to give Snowden asylum, and that the subsequent decision by the United States to cancel the summit with Obama and Putin was a setback in the bilateral relationship. The Russians being hapless victims of circumstance, you see, and completely blameless bystanders in their deteriorating relationship with the United States. Expect to see more mudding of the waters on this matter in an attempt to keep the facts surrounding Snowden’s asylum in Russia as murky as possible.