The news: During Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual press conference this Thursday, he threw a zinger at President Obama over the National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance practices, which were revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
"How do I feel about Obama after Snowden's revelations? I envy him, because he can get away with it," Putin quipped to a reporter.
"But there is nothing to be happy about and there is nothing to be sad about," Putin added, "because espionage is one of the oldest professions in the world, just like some other well-known professions — we won't mention them here."
Putin added that the Russian Federation is not working with Snowden to gather intelligence or attempting to extract information from him.
"To speak in professional jargon, operatively speaking, we are not working with him, and we never worked with him."
"It is up to him to determine his future," he said. "We are not going to help him, just give him shelter."
But Putin's Russia has a terrible record on respecting the rights of its citizens. Athletes and spectators at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 will be under some of the most intense surveillance in the history of the games, and the Federal Security Service openly operates a spy network called the System of Operative-Investigative Measures (SORM). SORM intercepts all telecommunications data in the country and might be second to the NSA's only because like much Russian infrastructure, it's outdated and poorly maintained. But in some ways, it's much worse: SORM data is openly available to the police, Russian secret service, and tax collection agencies, among others, and it's used to crush dissent.
But as Redditor NihilCredo notes, Putin can often afford to be "refreshingly forthright" because he's forced to be rational enough of a leader to resist the urge to run around building statues of himself, but not accountable enough that he can't be candid about his government and the state of the world. And Russia is powerful enough that Putin can use criticism as leverage and irritate other world leaders, but not powerful enough to bother with the "pretenses of empires."
Putin's interview came with some other choice quotes:
"Cossacks are often more efficient than law enforcement agencies..." Yes, you heard that right— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) December 19, 2013
Check out the rest of the conference here.