Just when the Snowden spy saga needs comic relief to counter Washington’s bad-tempered diplomacy, in walks Russian president Vladimir Putin with his own way of describing what might be in the whole deal for Moscow – “it’s like shearing a pig – lots of screams, but little wool.”
Clearly the Russian leader thought he could indulge in such colourful language because for the benefit of the international throngs following the story, he had just answered the ‘where’s Wally’ question – indeed, Mr Snowden was still at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport; though in the transit area which, technically, meant he was not in the country.
And showing he was not to be cowed by the American bullyboys, Mr Putin vowed that Russian authorities would not comply with American demands that Mr Snowden be snatched and handed over to them.
And if only in the eyes of US officials who think otherwise, Mr Putin veered towards the disingenuous, insisting that his security agencies had not interrogated Mr Snowden or been through his four laptops.
Just as security specialists presume that Chinese agents hoovered all they needed from the laptops while Mr Snowden hunkered in Hong Kong, with or without the former intelligence contractor’s permission, a former US intelligence official was dour in a prognostication he shared with The Washington Post.
“That stuff is gone,” he said. “I guarantee the Chinese intelligence service got their hands on that right away. If they imaged the hard drives and then returned them to him, well, then the Russians have that stuff now.”
“That stuff” could be huge. The Guardian journalist at the centre of the Snowden drama, has talked of Mr Snowden having thousands of documents – only a handful of which have been reported so far.
The US National Security Agency has indicated it will take months to trawl its classified databases, to establish just what Snowden lifted.
But a former government official told the Post: “They think he copied so much stuff – that almost everything that place does, he has.” By ‘that place,’ he means the NSA as he alluded to a sense of loathing at the agency: “Everyone’s nervous about what the next thing will be, what will be exposed.”
Speaking in Finland, Mr Putin argued that Mr Snowden was being treated like any other transit passenger before he dismissed implicit and explicit accusations from Washington as ‘nonsense and rubbish.’
Referring to Mr Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who is helping to get Mr Snowden to asylum in Ecuador in South America, Putin added: “[They] consider themselves human rights activists and say they are fighting for the spread of information.”
Not a great believer in the spread of information himself, Mr Putin then managed to continue with a straight face: “Ask yourself this – should you hand these people over so they will be put in prison? In any case, I’d rather not deal with such questions, because anyway it’s like shearing a pig – lots of screams, but little wool.”
If only in the eyes of US officials who think otherwise, Mr Putin veered towards the disingenuous, insisting that his security agencies had not interrogated Mr Snowden or been through his four laptops.
There were signs that Washington is issuing chill pills to senior officials.
Couching his words in the terms in which indignant Chinese and Russian officials used to reject his hot-headed comments of Monday, a more measured US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: “We’re not looking for a confrontation. We’re not ordering anybody. We are simply requesting under a very normal procedure for the transfer of somebody.
“I would simply appeal for calm and reasonableness at a moment when we don’t need to raise the level of confrontation over something as frankly basic and normal as this.”
With so many people in different time zones having their tuppence worth, it was though everyone was speaking at once. And in that context Kerry’s Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, wasn’t buying the new Mr Kerry tone.
“We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violations of US laws and even some sort of conspiracy which, on top of all that, are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable,” Mr Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
“There are no legal grounds for such conduct [by] US officials.”