What happened to other Americans who fled to Russia?


Is it just me or are none of the examples in the article from a post-Soviet era? I’m not sure how relevant they are to Russia today.


Just one more in the long running Boing Boing series “Links to Xenophobic Propaganda from US Mainstream Media Sources”. The current episode: “Evil USSR, er I mean Russia”. Past episodes include “Washington Post Hit Jobs on Ecuador and Venezuela”.

Just to point out the biased links Boing Boing loves to provide, here is a letter signed by tens of professors and reporters countering the propaganda the MSM actively produces on our southern socialist neighbors: http://www.scribd.com/doc/154328886/An-Open-Letter-to-the-Media-Snowden-and-Latin-America.

Well, maggiekb and Ygret, we could ask Anna Politkovskay (2005), Paul Klebnikov (2006), and Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev (2013) and 53 other Russian journalists who worked in the post-Soviet years just since 1992 whether any of this sort of thing goes on anymore. But, oh, that’s right–they were murdered because of their work.

Ygret, the NPR segment – which I commented for and boing boing linked to – is hardly xenophobic or propagandistic. If anything, it barely scratches the surface of things. This is not to suggest that the United States government isn’t guilty of any number of wrongs and excesses, but it is to say that Russia inhabits its own species of backwardness. As fitzbeat points out, the number of officially unsolved crimes in Russia makes a mockery of the whole idea of a criminal justice system, checks and balances, and protection of minority rights.

A July 10th piece from the Washington Post’s editorial board which has never hid its deep hatred of Venezuela, Ecuador and other left governments in Latin America describes another supposed graveinstance of the Venezuelan government clamping down on press freedoms. The editorial, which wasgiven greater publicity through Boing Boing and others, describes the case of journalist NelsonBocaranda, who is credited with breaking the news of Chávez ’s cancer in June 2011.

It gets rather specific, doesn’t it. That was this stupid thread:

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I wonder if Ygret wonders like I do: why not just say it’s not the nicest place to live; it’s cold; there’s Putin, life is hard there; life has always been hard there; corruption; cold; etc.

Instead, we get Stalin and the cold war. Assuming everything is a story, why not make up a new story that more closely matches contemporary reality. This new story might be: no one seeks refuge in Russia because it sucks: Putin, cold, corruption, inequality, alcoholism, snow, etc.

The story also implies Snowden is spying for the Russians, rather being forced to remain in Russia at the will of the US government.

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The cold war context helps to explain what is going on at the Kremlin. The Russian state has, to one extent or another, always been run by a cadre of thugs and thieves, and Stalin was simply the most notorious. Inserting him into a conversation about the Snowden affair illuminates the roles played, in today’s Russia, by party apparatchiks, the intelligence services and, of course, the vozhd (the leader) – all of which are derivatives of Soviet and pre-Soviet times. In other words, the cold war atmospherics are a necessary framework without which the meaning of the Snowden affair is lost. This only seems gratuitous or tendentious if one ignores the nature and, you might say, character of the Russian state since the communist collapse.

I’m not sure what your point is. The post is describing the lives of Americans that defected to the former USSR. And I am discussing the fact that BoingBoing keeps linking to xenophobic articles in the MSM. And then you come in and prove my point. No one disputes that Putin is a thug, but that doesn’t mean that Ed Snowden will have a miserable life if he stays in Russia. And the reason your response is xenophobic, and implicitly blindly nationalistic, is because you are ignoring all the horrible acts committed by the US government, including training, equipping and financing hundreds or thousands of Central American death squads over the past 40 years. Do you know how many priests and nuns were murdered by American-trained death squads? Do you know that the FBI encouraged and threatened Martin Luther King Junior that he should kill himself? That we routinely torture prisoners in our “justice” system? That we forced Yemen to rescind a pardon to a Yemeni journalist that reported on US cruise missile strikes on his country (contradicting US propaganda that it was the Yemeni government)? Did you know that a nun and two pacifists are facing 40 years in prison for cutting the fence and entering a US nuclear weapons factory to peacefully protest and hold a prayer vigil? They embarrassed the US government by showing how poor the security around its largest nuclear weapons facility actually is. That the Iraqis are facing an “epidemic” of children born with defects and cancers due to all of the “nuclear tipped” ordinance we’ve dropped on them over the past ten years? And I’m just scratching the surface. What was your point again?

Apparently even the “enlightened” commentariat at BoingBoing is not immune to blind nationalistic drivel.

Are you really defending the US “justice” system? Really? The one that incarcerates more people per capita than any nation in the world? And have you seen the sorry state of forensics technology in the US? We don’t even have general standards for fingerprinting, let alone any of our other “evidence” techniques that are total shams (excluding DNA, the only valid one apparently). The blind zeal for throwing people in prison has turned our prosecutors into a bunch of power-mad authoritarian mini dictators. Do you know how many death row inmates have been exonerated by DNA evidence? Do you not remember Troy Davis? Perhaps, and I’m just speculating here, a lower conviction rate would be preferable to locking up millions of harmless and innocent Americans.

So please don’t throw up the big bad Russia factoids to ambiguous end. And let’s not forget that the only reason Snowden is even in Russia is because the US won’t let him leave. From that perspective, the entire NPR piece as framed is Snowden chosing to “defect” to Russia, when they wait until the last line to point out the obvious fact that its the US that has him trapped there. NPR is US propaganda at its finest: subtle but extremely effective.

Simmer down, Ygret.

Hogwash. The entire framing of the NPR piece is manipulative and false: Snowden isn’t a defector to Russia. He is there because the US has trapped him there by revoking his passport and by making it clear that any plane that carries him will be forced down. This piece doesn’t illuminate anything we didn’t already know about Russia, but it does serve to obfuscate the reality that the US is no better than Russia in many ways, that our government is authoritarian, ruthless and thuggish, and that the US govt. has no respect for international law.

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“The editorial, which was given greater publicity through Boing Boing and others, describes the case of journalist Nelson Bocaranda, who is credited with breaking the news of Chávez’s cancer in June 2011. The Post champions Bocaranda as a “courage[ous]” “teller of truth” and dismisses the Venezuelan government’s
“charges” against him as “patently absurd.” In fact, Bocaranda has not been charged with anything; the Venezuelan government wants to know whether Bocaranda helped incite violence following the April 14 presidential elections, after which extreme sectors of the opposition attacked Cuban-run health clinics and homes and residences of governing party leaders, and in which some nine people were killed – mostly chavistas. The government cites a Tweet by Bocaranda in which he stated false information that ballot boxes were being hidden in a specific Cuban clinic in Gallo Verde, in Maracaibo state, and that the Cubans were refusing to let them be removed. Bocaranda later deleted the Tweet, but not before it was seen by hundreds of thousands…"

Moderator note: If you want to argue here, be polite and stay on topic. Hint: This topic isn’t about Venezuela.

Again, criticizing Russia is not meant to acquit the United States of anything. But the matter of U.S. government crimes and excesses is a separate conversation – and, even if it were not, that conversation would not magically acquit other governments (including the Russian government) of their own crimes. The point of the NPR article was simply that, if history is any indication, Snowden does not have a great deal to look forward to in Russia. Your point, I believe, is that bringing up the past amounts to propaganda meant to blind us to our own foibles. That’s rather odd. Including the historical record – a historical record that powerfully shapes Russian politics and culture today – is not only fair but necessary.

It’s worth noting that Snowden had an opportunity, immediately after going public, to force an overdue debate about American security. Because of his arrogance and ignorance, the former making it harder to overcome the latter, we are not discussing the intricacies of NSA policy or civil liberties or the proper role of the state but whether the Kremlin will give him a decent apartment. We’ve been sidetracked by the mundane at the expense of the important.

How would Snowden have had an opportunity to force anything if he had stayed in the US? Wouldn’t he just be in jail?


First of all, are you the Savodnik from the NPR piece? Because you are clearly looking at this case from a cold war perspective. The claims of Savodnik that “it’s likely Snowden has served his purpose in Russia” are strange indeed. There is no basis of information to conclude anything like that, nor if he really has any purpose for the Russians. Whatever data he has on his computers it strongly encrypted, and unless you think Snowden would release truly sensitive data to the Russians, or that he has been tortured to give up this information, the quote is meaningless. And even if one does believe either of these, there is NO evidence to that effect, and it is pure speculation. Not just that but Snowden, if anything, is a pain in the ass for the Russians, and its more likely he isn’t serving any truly useful purpose at all. He’s only there by accident, and is only staying there due to the fact that the US has blocked his escape to anywhere else.

And its not that bringing up the past amounts to propaganda. Its that bringing up the past, combined with the framing of the piece as Snowden seeking to “defect” to Russia, and absent any acknowledgement that Russia is not the USSR, specifically that it is not on a cold war footing, is propaganda. That they wait until the third to last paragraph to even mention WHY Snowden is in Russia, and end with musings on where he will go next (as if he really has any control over that anymore) is just more proof that they have managed to skew the entire story to make Snowden look like a defecting spy to our cold war enemy. And that IS propaganda. Subtle propaganda, but propaganda. The US media is expert at this garbage.

And the idea that Snowden is responsible for the fact that the sensationalist, propaganda spewing, jingoistic US media has focused on him instead of his revelations is severely flawed. What exactly could he have done to “force an overdue debate”? If he had allowed himself to be captured he would’ve become invisible, and his story would’ve disappeared from the MSM that much faster. The US media, just like the US government, has no interest in having a real debate about these issues at all, despite the insistence of the president that he “welcomes” said debate. How can there be a debate when one party holds all the information and continues to dissemble and mislead us about its activities? And how can there be a debate when we have a media that is in fawning obeisance to the security apparatus it is supposed to be questioning? To blame this sad state of affairs on Snowden is baseless and ridiculous.

My apologies if I’ve made a misstep, but I was merely continuing from my first comment by including some of the text from my link countering some of the past propaganda that BoingBoing has (unwittingly?) linked to. It relates to this story only in that they both appear to be propaganda pieces and I am questioning why BoingBoing would source stories from organizations that have repeatedly and consistently produced misleading items on these subjects. NPR has been shown to produce very biased pieces on social programs, finance and economics for many years now, and while this piece does not fall into that category, since it comes from a suspect source it should be framed as possible propaganda (at least). The other pieces were mainly from the Washington Post Op-Ed pages, which are notorious for spewing anti-socialist propaganda to undermine those nations to our south that have decided to break away from neoliberal economic domination. It would be nice if BoingBoing would address this question because, as a member who values the BoingBoing community my goal is to help in whatever minimal way I can to improve its reporting. BoingBoing is perceived as an alternative source of information – unusual or important items that can’t be easily found elsewhere and that pique the interest of its editors. Linking to mainstream media sources for information on volatile and topical issues without commentary or alternative views is not something that really fits within BoingBoing’s purview I would think. Such low-hanging fruit should be left to bland news aggregators, not to the preeminent internet freakshow we all know and love.

I am indeed that Savodnik from the NPR piece (as one of my earlier comments indicated). A few thoughts:

  1. I doubt very much that any information Snowden had access to is not already in the hands of the Chinese and Russian governments. It’s inconceivable that the intelligence services in those countries would have allowed him to enter or stay without obtaining everything he had. To think otherwise is naive.

  2. Once Snowden made that intelligence available to the Chinese and Russian governments, he alienated himself from most Americans. He squandered his moral credibility. You may think that there is no difference – morally – between the American, and the Chinese and Russian governments, but that is irrelevant here. What is relevant is that most Americans do think that (at least, this is what I strongly suspect). This means that Snowden, who briefly appeared to have been a hero to the American people, transformed himself into an enemy of them. You may scoff at that – you may think the American people are wrong – but this is as much about politics as it is about intelligence. Snowden’s failure to take the politics into account has led us astray; it has hijacked the conversation that we should be having, about civil liberties and government overreach.

  3. This notion that Snowden is trapped in Russia is odd. Before Snowden went public, in June, he could have traveled to any country he wanted to. But he chose a country with a one-party state and an abysmal human-rights record. I suspect you don’t see any moral difference between that government and the American government, but the fact remains: Had Snowden gone somewhere like Europe or Canada, he would have had much more credibility in the eyes of the American public. True, he also would have been extradited to the United States. But only by allowing himself to be extradited could he have gone on playing the role of martyr-hero. Now he’s widely viewed as little more than a traitor – and we, as a nation, are deprived of the important conversation that we ought to be having.