For Edward Snowden, why Russia?

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at Belfast International Airport, in Northern Ireland, on Monday, June 17, 2013. President Hollande is in Northern Ireland to attend the G-8 Summit in Enniskillen. (AP Photo/ Peter Muhly, Pool) Peter Muhly

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor charged with espionage and theft of government property, is on the run.

And while his reportedly intended final destination is Ecuador, possibly by way of Cuba, it was Moscow that he chose as his first stop after leaving Hong Kong Sunday.

Why Russia?

For a man on the lam from the United States government, the country offers an appealing mix.

  • For Edward Snowden, why Ecuador?
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  • "Russia is not an ally of the United States," Dimitri Simes, head of the Center for the National Interest, told CBSNews.com.

    "The fact that Russia is not a friend of the United States, the fact that Russia doesn't have an extradition treaty with the United States, the fact that President Putin is not known to be close to President Obama, and the fact that President Putin is not known as somebody who can be pushed around, made Russia a logical place to consider," he said.

    In the absence of a formal extradition treaty, U.S. officials are emphasizing past collaboration between the two countries in their bid to capture Snowden.

    "We have returned seven prisoners to them in the last two years that they requested," Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS State Department Correspondent Margaret Brennan in New Delhi Monday.

    "I think it's very important for them to adhere to the rule of law and respect the relationship."

    According to CBS News correspondent John Miller, who formerly worked at Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the U.S. is engaging the Russian government at the highest levels to try and accomplish two things: Keep Snowden on Russian soil, and then get him handed over to the U.S.

    "The State Department and the Department of Justice are saying to their counterparts in Russia, 'Look, this guy is formally charged with espionage and misusing classified government documents. To do anything else but turn him over would be to actively assist in the escape of an international fugitive,'" Miller said.

    Russia might have other ideas.

    CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk noted that the two countries have clashed in recent months on issues including Syria, nuclear proliferation and missile shields.

    "So when Snowden comes along asking Putin to merely protect him in transit, the Russian Federation finds another way to send the message to Obama that a reset will require issues important to Russia's own security interests," Falk said.

    That the two countries' presidents aren't exactly on the friendliest of terms would have been readily apparent to Snowden and the advisers reportedly helping him from the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, Simes said.

    Moscow might have seemed less appealing for Snowden if this were 2009, when President Obama enjoyed a warmer chemistry with Russia's leader, then-president Dmitry Medvedev. That perhaps could have facilitated a situation in which President Obama was able to ask his Russian counterpart for a favor.

    "It is harder to visualize a friendly conversation with President Putin and President Obama," Simes said.

    Could the Russian government detain and extradite Snowden, even if it wanted to?

    "Of course they could," Simes said. He added, though, that doing so might actually cause political troubles for Putin at home, with a nationalistic base, and a population that, according to Simes, has grown disillusioned with President Obama.

    "Domestically, it really could be a serious problem for him."

    In refusing to extradite Snowden, analysts said, there are a number of legal justifications Russia could cite, in addition to the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries.

    "Under international law, a legitimate request for political asylum under the Refugee Convention trumps a request for extradition," Falk said. "The murky area comes when the country requesting extradition claims the crime is not of a political nature, as the U.S. has done in the indictment."

    Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild, argued that Russia might also find justifications in the Convention Against Torture, citing the treatment of another accused leaker, Pfc. Bradley Manning.

    "Since Bradley Manning was subjected to torture by being held in solitary confinement for the first nine months of his confinement, Russia could conclude that Snowden might be subjected to the same fate, and deny extradition on that ground," Cohn wrote in an email to CBSNews.com.

    Then there's double criminality. Under the doctrine, Simes noted, the act for which the extradition is sought must be recognized by both the demanding and requested countries.

    "Stealing American secrets is not a crime in Russia."

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    Alexander is a digital reporter for CBSNews.com. He previously worked as a multimedia reporter for POLITICO, where he covered the 2012 presidential campaign.

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