Readers of last week’s exchange between Putin and Edward Snowden during a Q&A TV program had reason to think so. In that exchange, Putin indicated that both of them had had a relationship with intelligence services at one time and that they could talk to each other like professionals.
That was amusing.
But an account of this exchange in the Moscow News of Monday, April 21, is not amusing at all.
U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden defended his question to President Vladimir Putin in The Guardian on Friday, a day after he asked the Russian president about government surveillance in Russia.
Snowden, coordinating with The Guardian through the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in an op-ed that he asked Putin whether Russia ran a widespread surveillance program to get him on the record denying the suspected activities, adding that his answer was “suspiciously narrow” and “evasive.”
After a somewhat lengthy conferral with the television presenter for a Russian rephrasing of Snowden’s English question, Putin answered by drawing a comparison between the whistleblower’s experience at the U.S. National Security Agency and his own time with the KGB and saying that Russia only uses limited surveillance when approved by a court order.
The question brought Snowden a wave of criticism from Western observers, with Economist editor Edward Lucas telling The Wall Street Journal that the question made him “look like a propaganda patsy of the Kremlin.”
Snowden said in his op-ed that he knows his appearance “could be misinterpreted,” but said that it was “rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk.”
While Snowden hoped that Russian media would take up the task of challenging inconsistencies in Putin’s response, others have been disappointed by the lack of attention to the content in the president’s answer.
Andrei Soldatov, a journalist mentioned by Snowden as а prominent critic of the Russian surveillance system, posted on his Twitter account Friday: “Something about the society we live in: while Snowden’s question to Putin is hotly debated in English, I don’t see much of debate in Russian.”