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Why Putin Likes a Long Airport Stay for Snowden

Wednesday, 3 Jul 2013 | 11:28 AM ET
Maxim Shemetov | AFP | Getty Images

At a recent ASEAN meeting in Brunei, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was was very agitated with the press, who were more concerned about his thoughts on the situation surrounding Edward Snowden than whatever else was actually on the meeting's agenda.

But behind the seemingly frustrated rhetoric, there is certainly a feeling of vindication on behalf of Russian officials over the revelations that came out of Snowden's leaks.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters that Snowden could stay in Russia on one condition:

"He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips."

Perhaps not as strange, as it is silly. Clearly, the damage has already been done and Putin knows that better than anyone else.

As a wise geopolitical strategist once said: "Countries don't have friends, they have interests."

And as recent history has shown, one of Russia's main geopolitical interests is to disprove America's self-proclaimed exceptionalism and to get the U.S. out of Russia's so-called sphere of influence.

Russian officials are all but salivating from the information that Snowden exposed, and the longer they can keep perpetuating the situation just far enough not to completely shatter relations with the U.S., the better for them.

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In other words, Russian officials won't go so far as to grant Snowden asylum (even if he had not withdrawn that request), but they also will not make the effort to extradite him back to the U.S. or intervene in any other way. At least not for the time being.

The bitterness still felt in Russian circles about Viktor Bout also plays a role in this decision-making.

The NSA whistle-blower, in the meantime, is still at Terminal E of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

It is a terminal that ironically has a Burger King, a Friday's, a bar called "Pub," and a hotel called "Vozdyshnij Express" (Air-y Express).

It's an area that is pretty notorious for housing people who either want to or have no other choice than to stay there ... well, indefinitely.

But most importantly, especially for those running from the law, the hotel and the surrounding area is not technically considered "Russian soil."

In fact, an airport employee confirmed to Russian reporters that someone can basically live in this terminal for months because that hotel is there.

According to Viktor Gorbachev, director general of the Russian Civil Airports Association, there have been instances where people, particularly from Africa, fly to Sheremetyevo, get rid of their passports and then stay for years. Some even end up getting married at that very terminal!

According to sources, a few days after Snowden's arrival in Moscow, an exchange between police and a journalist went as follows:

A Russian police officer asked, "Are you looking for someone? You won't find him."

Answering the question of whether or not he'd seen Snowden, the police officer said "I see him all the time. But you won't find him."

—By CNBC's Dina Gusovsky. She is a former anchor/correspondent for Russia Today. She emigrated to the United States from Moscow in 1991. Follow her on Twitter at @DinaGusovsky.

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