Edward Snowden and Democratization Through the Web

Edward Snowden belongs to that generation of militants who do believe in the web as a tool for democratization, and do think that, to some extent, intelligence services of big states intend to monitor and to control the web at the expense of civil societies. These militants want to fight against the "raison d'Etat".

Valdaiclub.com interview with Tomas Gomart, Director of the Russia/ Newly Independent States Centre at IFRI (French Institute of International Relations based in Paris and Brussels), member of the Valdai Discussion Club.

Why did Edward Snowden decide to disclose information related to U.S. secret services?

Edward Snowden belongs to that generation of militants who do believe in the web as a tool for democratization, and do think that, to some extent, intelligence services of big states intend to monitor and to control the web at the expense of civil societies. This generation of militants believes in democratization through the web, and they want to fight against the "raison d'Etat". In that sense, there will be certainly other people like Snowden who will be ready to defend that cause of transparency. We'll see what is going to happen, but I definitely think he will become more and more a sort of a symbol of this cause, as Julian Assange is.

Is he a hero or an anti-hero?

If you think that states are the pivots of the international system, and that their very first task is to provide security to their people, therefore, Edward Snowden will be considered as an enemy. If you think that civil society should become much more involved in international relations, that international relations are not or should not be monopolized by states and big companies – in that case, Snowden might appear to be a militant. For people promotiong transparency through the web, he is already seen as a hero.

In your opinion, how will this situation affect Russian-U.S. relations?

Seen from Paris, it is very challenging for both Washington and Moscow. For Washington, certainly it's a huge issue - Snowden has revealed what has been happening consistently and for a very long time by the NSA. More importantly, he has pointed out the links between US intelligence and major US companies dominating the internet industry. The relations between Moscow and Washington have been recently tricky due to Magnitsky case at the end of 2012, but not only. The relations between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin are partly cooperative, and partly competitive. The reset was in 2009, but it seems that both countries are not very willing to promote significantly their cooperation since that. It is also challenging for President Putin given the fact that, to some extent, it is also questioning the Russian system. Alexei Navalny, for instance, has used the web to leak corruption scandals. Vladimir Putin, as an intelligent officer fighting dissidents in East Germany, is certainly thinking that something similar to Snowden could happen in Russia as well. These can also appear in Russia, and they can destabilize Russian state. From this point of view, there is a natural convergence between states against people like Snowden. Added to this, there is also some intelligence sharing between the US and Russia on terrorism, and possibly other matters. It is much more than valuable for both countries in addition to their strategic and nuclear dialogue.

As you know, there is no extradition treaty between Russia and the U.S., which is why Russia said it won't extradite Mr. Snowden. Do you think that both countries need such a treaty?

That's to both countries to respond to this issue. It seems to me that, at this stage, in terms of political communication, Moscow has appeared as a place welcoming people like Snowden who can be seen as US dissidents. The symbol is telling. In addition to that, there is a fundamental difference between the US and the Russian judicial system: death penalty. This affair is also a way to remind, especially in Europe, that there is no more death penalty in the Russian system, as compared to the U.S. one. So it's something quite important, because there are always criticisms from the U.S. or from Europe regarding the political regime in Russia.

Russian senior officials have said that they are ready to grant political asylum to Edward Snowden. Do you think Russia should take such a step?

It's really up to the Russian authorities. From my point of view, they do not want to complicate their relations with Washington. I think that certainly there is the fear of something similar coming out of the Russian system. We can imagine a situation in which there will be a sort of Russian Snowden in the future. That would be very challenging for the Russian authorities as well. And I think that's a trend for all political regimes. The fact that he's coming from the U.S. is important, but much more important is the fact that he can become a sort of example for other militants, and some of them, once again, could come from Russia or other European countries in the future.

What do you think about incident with President Evo Morales’ plane, which had been denied access to the airspace and airports of France and Portugal?

That's quite amazing, to be honest, for two reasons. The first one is to observe how Edward Snowden, has become the epicenter of a global diplomatic crisis. The second one is that crisis involves the U.S., obviously, Russia and four countries in Europe – Portugal, Spain, Italy and France. Reaction in Latin America against these European countries has been very strong. The deny access to the flight of the President of Bolivia has reflected how the US has pressured their allies on this issue. They have accepted to be pressured in such way.
It has been very sensitive in Europe, and especially in France, because you have some politicians who officially wanted to give political asylum to Edward Snowden – people from the far right or the far left, in particular. Secondly, we have this information about the plan made by the NSA against its European allies. And thirdly, we were obliged to start the first round of negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between Europe and the U.S. in this particular context. In that sense, the Snowden affair is challenging for the US, Russia and European countries. But for fundamentally different reasons.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.