Vladimir Putin (center) has more to worry about from Alexei Navalny (left) than Edward Snowden (right) (Sources, l-r: Bogomolov.pl under CC BY-SA 3.0, Kremlin.ru under CC BY 3.0, and Laura Poitras/Praxis Films under CC BY 3.0)
There are many things the President of a country has to worry about. Foreign policy, domestic security, how to entertain dignitaries and make sure any other branches of government will not step in one's way. To focus on one particular person or another is not a wise way of managing a country, and is usually reserved for those dictators who wish to take out political opponents or sycophantic leaders who wish to appease certain donors or influential policymakers. This is even more the case when said person has caused trouble in another country.
Such is the situation with Vladimir Putin, president of Russia. In recent weeks, his country has been the center of attention in Western media due to arrival of Edward Snowden, the leaker of several NSA documents in the United States, including those surrounding the social media data-mining program Operation PRISM. Snowden has been cooped up for the last few weeks in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport, which he cannot leave, since his American passport has been revoked. Calls have been made inside Russia and throughout the world to grant Snowden asylum to escape prosecution from the U.S. over the leaking of the NSA documents.
President Putin and the Kremlin, far from being the belligerent or sycophant, have taken a decidedly neutral approach to the Snowden situation by leaving him in the transit zone and letting him figure out his asylum situation on his own. Snowden announced his intent to seek Russian citizenship on asylum grounds recently, but there seems to be no rush to get it processed. When pressed on the matter, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made clear that Snowden was pretty low on the priority list. Pointing out that they've seen Putin's working schedule, "these are much more important things than Snowden," Peskov said. To drive this point home, he referred to efforts to improve two far-eastern regions of Russia as more important to Putin than Snowden. Furthermore, despite the issues U.S. President Barack Obama has with Snowden's current location, Peskov reiterates that there have been no major changes to the two country's relations, and that an upcoming bilateral meeting between Putin and Obama in September would continue as scheduled.
Still, this is not to say Putin has someone to worry about. It's just that the person is much closer to home. This morning, opposition leader Alexei Navalny was released from prison after a court ordered for his release, pending his appeal of yesterday's fraud and embezzlement conviction. Navalny, who has uncovered corruption in various parts of the Russian government, is believed by many to be the target of a political campaign to suppress his activism. After his conviction, thousands took to the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg to protest, leading to several arrests and possibly the temporary closure of Red Square. With his release, Navalny is now free to campaign for mayor in Moscow, whose election will take place on September 17th. While Navalny's activism has explicitly avoided dealing with Putin directly, seeing the corruption as more endemic to the Russian government in general, the President must certainly be worried about the thorn in the side that Navalny produces. He is certainly much more important than Edward Snowden.