In what can only be described as bizarre, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden went on Russian national television to question President Vladimir Putin as part of a "surprise guest" appearance for the Russian leader. Snowden, who was given asylum in the country last year, is apparently using his image as a surveillance critic to reach the Russian people.
Still, the appearance on Russia 1 has been met with mixed views in the Western world, where viewers see it as an almost staged-like showing that Putin could use as a means of gaining more support for policies questioned by Europe and the United States.
The program was paused momentarily as the presenter of Putin's call-in show received what was described as a "sensational video" for the brash leader. It was Snowden on the image. And he was giving what appeared to be a pseudo lecture to Putin over his use of surveillance. Putin gave little emotional response, and looked as if he were expecting the man on the screen.
The man who leaked details of the U.S. government's spying on citizens program said that "I've seen little public discussion of Russia's own involvement in the policies of mass surveillance."
Snowden continued, asking Putin, "Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze the communications of millions of individuals?"
While the question and comment were on par for Snowden, who has made an even larger name for himself by discussing the intricacies of spying programs that the NSA had established and which he reported to the public, forcing his exile from his native land, Putin seemed unfazed, even having a quick retort ready and prepared.
"You're a former agent and I used to work in intelligence," Putin said, to chuckles in the audience. "Special services here, thank God, are under the strict control of the government, society, and their operations are regulated by law."
It comes as Russia continues to crack down on online free speech, arresting and detaining bloggers over the past few years on charges they were defaming the country's leaders and culture. That Snowden was granted asylum in Russia has raised a number of concerns over Russia's attempt to deflect public opinion away from the secrecy of the Kremlin and toward ideas of expansion, as witnessed in the ongoing events in Ukraine.
For Snowden, it is another sign that the man who has enlivened the debate over the right to privacy in the U.S., is not keeping quiet, even if his appearance and video were handled with expert political means by Putin and his group of advisers.