During a live broadcast on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally admitted what the world already knew or suspected: that Russian troops entered Crimea before a crucial March referendum. But the true surprise occurred later in the program, when Edward Snowden called in to ask Putin if Russia's surveillance programs were similar to the United States'.
"I've seen little public discussion of Russia's policy of mass surveillance," Snowden said. "So I'd like to ask you: Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze the communication of millions? And do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies can justify placing societies, rather than individual subjects, under surveillance?"
Putin welcomed Snowden's question, even recognizing him as a sort of colleague.
"Mr. Snowden, you are a former spy. I used to work for an intelligence agency," Putin said. "We can talk one professional language."
"First of all, our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law," he added. "You have to get the court's permission to stalk a person. We don't have a mass system of interception. With our law, it cannot exist. Of course, we know criminals and terrorists use technology for their criminal acts and of course the special services have to use technical means to respond to their crimes. Of course, we do some efforts like that but we do not have mass scale effort. I hope we don't do that. We don't have the money or the kind of devices they have in the United States. Our special services are strictly controlled by the society and the law, and are regulated by the law."
In a more believable and ominous segment of the broadcast, Putin reasserted Russia's right to use force in Ukraine. "I very much hope I will not have to use this right and we will manage to resolve all pressing, not to say, critical contemporary problems of Ukraine with political and diplomatic means," he said.