Snowden’s “Trap” for Putin Misses Its Mark

Vlad Snowden Snowdens Trap for Putin Misses Its Mark

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden is raising questions about state-sponsored citizen surveillance. No, this is not a repeat from last May. The former National Security Agency contractor, whose classified disclosures exposed a host of US global surveillance programs, is proving himself to be an equal opportunity agitator by taking aim at his homeland-in-exile, Russia, and his putative host, Vladimir Putin.

In what was widely dismissed as a propaganda stunt for the Russian president, Snowden showed up on Russian television on Putin’s annual call-in meeting with the nation. Appearing via a video link, Snowden asked Putin whether Russia spies on its citizens like the US does. The former KGB agent responded that Russia’s “special services are strictly controlled by the state and society, and their activity is regulated by law.” He added, for good measure, that Russia has neither the money nor the “technical devices” the US has.

Snowden himself followed up with a newspaper column to explain the ulterior motive for his appearance: He was hoping to trap Putin with a question that “cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program.” His motive, he said, was to spark a debate over Russia’s own surveillance programs. Fat chance of that happening in his adopted land.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden, whose naïve idealism could be his undoing.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t believe your own hype. Edward Snowden wants to expand his crusade, doubtless fortified by world reaction to date. Whether hero or traitor, though, his stature in either capacity doesn’t travel well, nor might it live long. His disclosures of US spying did, in fact, ignite an international debate. No chance of that same scrutiny happening in Russia. Nor is Putin likely to care much if Snowden’s “trap” sparks global condemnation. Just ask Ukraine.

“A New Russia” – Same As the Old Russia

 A New Russia   Same As the Old Russia

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Barely a week ago, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, came to a triumphant close. The games were free from terrorism, the ceremonies were lavish, the competition fierce and exciting. Russian President Vladimir Putin had made good, and the world could agree with Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, when he closed the games by proclaiming, “This is the new face of Russia.” Days later, the old Russia would rear its head.

Over the weekend, Russian soldiers seized airports in Ukraine in what seems the start of an invasion. Crimea is now involved in a tug of what many fear will be war. “This is the red alert,” said Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk to reporters. “This is not a threat, this is actually a declaration of war to my country.”

Yatsenyuk was appealing to the West for help, and while the West has condemned Russia’s actions, President Putin shows no sign of being concerned or deterred. The “new face of Russia” looks very familiar.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Time out doesn’t mean an about face. In one sense, Russian President Putin did exactly what he was supposed to do: put political disagreements aside so the world could come together in the spirit of the Olympic Games. He was a gracious host to his guests, though he displaced his own people and killed stray dogs to build the Olympic Park. Nonetheless, Russia’s PR received an incredible boost during the Games. Within days, all of that good will has been undone. Having put on a grand party, it’s back to business as usual, and Putin cares less how Russia looks to the world now.