To begin, Russia's media have won awards for neutrality, internationally. Often one might watch an interview with a Russian state official on state sponsored RT, in which the official or government spokesman is being viciously attacked for holding the party line. There tends to be questioning with extensive cross examination, with all the hardest questions being rapid fired out, and somehow by calm argument, the Russian official is able to escape the questioning by intelligent and intelligible sounding answers. Whether for propaganda purposes or truth, whether sudden or 'scripted', the Russian approach seems to be to ask the tough questions and to have them answered. Edward Snowden did that in Russia, he asked Putin about Russian surveillance. American pundits attacked him for doing so, for asking the Russian President about spying, because the Russian President answered the question. So be it, it is okay to ask questions, and Snowden was going to be criticised no matter what the response, he is a persona non grata in his homeland.
What Snowden did next, could, if narratives portrayed in the West are correct, make a person not only question Snowden's understanding of politics, but his desire for self preservation in a non-ideal world. Perhaps this risky choice of his is proof of his truthfulness in his: it-is-all-about-anti-spying claims? Because he just bit the hand that feeds and protects him. Edward Snowden, whistleblower extraordinaire just accused Vladimir Putin of being a liar:
'In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we'll get to them soon – but it was not the president's suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.
'I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin's evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.
'The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia's surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as "extremely important for Russia". It could, he said, "lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping."
'Others have pointed out that Putin's response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader – a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists.
'In fact, Putin's response was remarkably similar to Barack Obama's initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA's domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible. '(The Guardian | 'Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama' by Edward Snowden at 18 April 2014 05.06 BST)
Does Russia have mass illegal surveillance? To be honest I do not know. South Africa does spy on her citizens all at once, via RICA: but allegedly all the data is just stored permanently in catch all, until a court order for someone's data is requested by intelligence.
Was his question to Putin scripted propaganda? I don't know. I know that if Putin were 100 other leaders, he would not want such a question which puts spying on the front page. I know with certainty that such a piece as in the Guardian, which suggests Putin were lying would not be tolerated by most leaders. Snowden needs to get his Russian refugee status renewed shortly enough. He has called the president of that country a liar, and asked for reforms.
Perhaps this is it, the litmus test for Snowden. He has certainly risked everything, being the guest in the house accusing the husband of keeping secrets from his wife by writing to the village newspaper about it. Will Vladimir Putin tell Snowden to stick his nose elsewhere? Has the gimmick worn off? Or is Russia really harbouring Snowden out of respect for his human rights?
I still think the latter is a real possibility. Russians have a different understanding of human rights than the Guardian or Human Rights Watch, but while it is different than in the West it is certainly consistent. It certainly holds a holiness to Putin to feel he is enforcing international law and human rights. As for what human rights are, or aren't, it seems someone else is being consistent. Edward Snowden is crying about mass surveillance in Russia as much as in his homeland.