Punishment for Snowden? Life sentence in a Moscow airport terminal?

UPDATE (July 3, 2013): Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, wanted by the U.S. on espionage charges, is still in the Moscow airport, follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s refusal to grant him asylum unless he agreed to stop disclosing more U.S. secrets. And more recently, Snowden’s asylum mess created a diplomatic flap with Bolivia, when the plane carrying that country’s president from Moscow was denied permission to fly over some European countries and inspected in Vienna due to suspicion that Snowden was on board. 


You know every time I have to wait for a flight in an airport terminal, I’m able to imagine—just a little bit—what it must be like to sentenced to a prison — OK, a modern, state-of-the-art one at that. 

I always get just a tad claustrophic and uncomfortable, knowing that fresh air and sunlight are off limits, that I am trapped with hundreds of strangers in a glass and concrete box, shepherded from line to another, like prisoners herded in and out of their cells. I also know I’m surrounded by a massive security apparatus, designed to limit my movement in and out of the airport and within the complex itself. 

The environment of circulated air and false light make me edgy, cranky, sad. I start to feel ugly, pale — my humanity diminished. My clothes itch. My skin feels sooty and oily. More than anything, I want to take a bath. But the pleasures of a bath, or of real food not loaded with fat, salts and over-processingand of the serenity of a private moment—those are pleasures you give up when serving time in an airport terminal.

I’ve been stuck in various airport terminals for various lengths of time in my life. I once spent the night at Gatwick Airport in London, sleeping on the floor, waiting for an early morning flight. But at least Gatwick had showers you could use—what a brilliant idea, the chance to clean that airport terminal muck off before boarding my flight. I’ve been stuck for hours or days at airports in the United Sates after missed or cancelled flights, or flights delayed due to weather.  

Once, my husband and I spent an entire 12 hours in a provincial airport in India, at the base of the Himalayas. We had to get up at midnight in the mountain city of Darjeeling to catch a ride on a creaky bus that barreled us down a narrow mountain road to the airport. We had to reach this airport by 6 or 7 in the morning, then wait all day in the stuffy, small, overcrowded airport. We couldn’t leave the airport for safety reasons. The Communist Party had called a strike that day, so no transit was running, and people were told to stay put. We needed to catch an evening flight to Calcutta, to, in turn, catch a morning flight to Bangkok where we were living at the time.

That provincial airport was not air-conditioned. Any momentary illusion of breeze came from from ceiling fans. We were tired from being up all night, but there was no place to lie down. A cot would have been especially welcomed by a fellow traveler, a young German woman who was burning up with one of those annoying fevers you catch while traveling in India. The airport, if I remember correctly, had squat toilets and no toilet paper, and its café served tepid tea and probably cold samosas.  But at least, there was a place at this airport, a small enclosed area, covered in gravel, where you could step outside and breath in some real air—sun-baked as it was.

Yes, airport terminals are places I prefer to avoid, but accept them as necessary evils on my way to some desirable destination.   
So, now I hear that Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor facing espionage charges, is apparently in hiding in a terminal at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.  Russia said Snowden is in the airport’s transit area, unable to pass through Russia’s customs because he has no visa to enter Russia. The U.S. has also revoked his passport, so Snowden is essentially a stateless person. 

He can’t even leave the airport to get to the Embassy of Ecuador, located in Moscow. Ecuador may offer  Snowden asylum, and would consider giving Snowden protection to come to Ecuador’s embassy – but again Russia won’t allow him to step foot on Russian soil without a visa. To further complicate matters, Ecuador’s foreign minister indicated to Reuter’s that a decision on Snowden’s asylum request could take two months.

“It took us two months to make a decision on Assange so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time,” Foreign Minister Richard Patino said in Kuala Lumpur, according to Reuters. Patino was referring to the founder of anti-secrecy group Wikileaks, Julian Assange.
So, it sounds like Snowden could be stuck in airport terminal limbo for quite a while, a reality that is beginning to annoy the Kremlin. Uh-oh, Vlad Putin is irked!

Aeroflot told Reuters that Snowden is not in their system, showing he has not booked any flights, including to Havana, which would offer a connecting flight to Ecuador—were Ecuador to come through with asylum.

Whether you consider Snowden a scoundrel and a traitor or a heroic whistleblower, I can’t help but feel some sympathy for anyone being stuck in an airport terminal – with no exit in sight.
Could this be some nightmarish Twilight Zone episode? 

And a Moscow airport? Do Russian public buildings still have squat toilets? They did back in the 1980s, when I visited the then-Soviet state. Oh, I didn’t mind the squatting—which is what girls do in the wild—but the Soviet toilets didn’t flush, so you were basically eliminating your waste in an outhouse—that rarely got cleaned. Oh, those smells! And some babushka was always poking her nose in the stall door, announcing impatience with how much time I was taking, no doubt looking for something with which to wipe myself. 

Well, I’m sure things have changed in terms of Russia’s public toilets since the Soviet era.  And Sheremetyevo International Airport, Russia’s largest airport, can now, in 2013, boast that it is “recognized as the best airport in Europe in terms of quality of passenger service on the basis of a reputable program ASQ (Airport Service Quality) of Airports Council International (ACI).

The airport underwent an “intensive development and large-scale modernization” in 2005. “As the result of this upgrade, a number of passenger terminals increased from two to six, and their annual handling capacity — from 12 to 35 million passengers.

Not sure in which of the six terminals Snowden may have found refuge but all terminals boast restaurants, cafes, cocktail lounges, and shops. Oh, and this may be a unique feature of this airport: A Fear of Flying Treatment Center, where passengers can consult with a psychologist or immerse themselves in “Virtual Reality Exposition Therapy—an advanced computerized experienced designed to treat aerophobia. 
Oh, and Snowden can easily keep in contact with his supporters and friends in the media: the Sheremetyevo International Airport offers free wi-fi. I supposed Snowden, being Public Enemy No. 1 to the United States government, could by certain criterion qualify as a VIP, but I don’t know if the terminal he’s hiding in gives him access to the airport’s VIP lounges, where their chairs are a bit more comfortable and presumably hospitable to naps.

Yeah, but even a cozy chair: that’s no substitute for a bed. How he is going to get a decent night’s rest? And what will poor Snowden do about showers? And, no doubt, the airport fare, even at Europe’s best airport, won’t compare with the fine selections you get at U.S. airports, from Burger King and Subway to Lark Creek Grill.  And, no, Moscow’s amazing airport does not have a Starbuck’s or Peet’s Coffee and Tea. 
Life on the run can be grim indeed.  

10 thoughts on “Punishment for Snowden? Life sentence in a Moscow airport terminal?

  1. Hello Ginaginaw,
    Thanks so much for your comments. You may have more to say about the next post, which will raise some difficult questions … Or you may know of others who have things to say on the issue …


  2. Such an interesting post.The way you have explained i really enjoyed that ,it seems that i am watching some kind of travel guide film. WELL! Each country is going through this phase due to political constraints but still there is a hope for the betterment of their quality services but meet and greet parking Gatwick provides their travelers a well equipped and secure car parking services. pre-book your car and place it at parking during depart. just shun to it.


  3. The issues regarding security matters are occurring due to political matters . authorities should have to be responsible in providing the better service . Well Travelers are usually in want of better n secure parking service and so meet and greet gatwick helps in this way.


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