While the rest of the world is bubbling with (subdued) rage against the United States over reports that the NSA has been spying on their leaders, Russia is quietly rubbing its hands.
On Thursday, The Guardian reported that the U.S. had been listening in on the phone conversations of 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to information provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The Washington Post reported that Snowden also obtained documents on U.S. allies collecting data about Russia, Iran and China (that happens?!), and that the U.S. government was warning the allied intelligence agencies that this information may come to light.
The Europeans are walking a fine line, or as Der Spiegel puts it "performing a delicate dance," balancing mandatory indignation while maintaining close ties with the United States. And while Angela Merkel says "spying among friends, that cannot be," the Russians seem to be going out of their way to show that they could care less.
In a nonchalant reaction to the new revelations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday in Minsk, Belarus that the U.S. surveillance efforts will not affect ties between the two states, that "contacts [between the two countries] will never stop." He underlined that the Snowden affair is not high on the Russian foreign agenda: "We have formulated our position on Snowden and have said everything we meant to say."
Instead of expressing their public outrage, like they had earlier this week when Mother Jones reported that the FBI was investigating Washington D.C.-based Russian cultural center for allegedly recruiting American citizens as spies, they decided to sit back. On Wednesday, the American authorities were "unfriendly," on Friday, the Russians assured that they will never cease their contacts with the U.S. Why expend the energy on backlash when you can patiently wait for the U.S. to dig itself a deeper hole?
Russian English-language news outlets are dominated by stories about how the U.S. is in trouble, reporting the blasé reactions of their leaders and gladly pointing out everyone else's annoyance -- "Irritated EU leaders voice ‘lack of trust' with U.S. after spying claims" reads a Kremlin-backed RT news service headline.
Voice of Russia ran an interview with Spencer Zifcak, a professor of human rights law at Melbourne University and president of the Australian National Civil Liberties Organization, who is predicting a menacing erosion of U.S.- EU relations. While European news outlets quote officials saying that the spying hardly came as a surprise, Voice of Russia's expert thinks that the news "may result in dramatic changes in diplomatic ties between many countries." Prominently featured on the front page of RT is an article on an upcoming anti-mass surveillance rally in Washington D.C., complete with encouragement from Edward Snowden to join the rally and an interview with Evan Greer from the Fight for the Future campaign, whose video on surveillance inspired the protest.
Greer said that "what we do know is that the NSA and its defenders in Congress have consistently misled the public, given false information, and outright lied about this issue ... What we definitely know is that these programs have had a massively chilling effect on freedom of speech and freedom of expression."
It was a pretty ironic statement, given that it was on Vladimir Putin's favorite news website.