Putin says US ties more important than Snowden
Russian president signals he will not let dispute over whistleblower derail US relations
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin gave his clearest signal yet that he will not let a dispute over the fate of former US spy contractor Edward Snowden derail relations with the United States.
Mr Snowden, who is wanted by Washington for leaking details of US intelligence programmes, is seeking temporary asylum in Russia after spending more than three weeks at a Moscow airport trying to fly to a country that will shelter him.
Allowing the American to stay in Russia even temporarily would upset Washington. But a refusal would open Mr Putin to criticism at home that he has not stood up to Moscow’s former Cold War enemy, even though he has refused to extradite Mr Snowden.
Asked during a visit to the eastern Siberian town of Chita whether the affair would cast a shadow over a US-Russia summit due in September in Moscow, Mr Putin told reporters today: “Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are far more important than squabbles about the activities of the secret services.”
Mr Putin did not say whether Russia would grant Mr Snowden’s temporary asylum request, but made clear he was still insisting the American must agree to do nothing to harm the United States.
“We warned Mr Snowden that any action by him that could cause damage to Russian-American relations is unacceptable for us,” Mr Putin said.
Russia would take an independent decision when deciding on Mr Snowden’s fate, but maintaining relations with Washington was also a “national objective”, the president added.
Mr Snowden is useful as a propaganda tool for Putin, who accuses the US government of preaching to the world about rights and freedoms it does not uphold at home.
But Mr Putin wants the summit with Mr Obama to go ahead and both countries have signalled they want better relations, strained by issues ranging from the Syrian conflict to Mr Putin’s treatment of opponents since he started a six-year third term in 2012.