US condemns Russia’s decision to grant Snowden asylum
NSA whistleblower accepts condition that he stop leaking US secrets, says lawyer
President Vladimir Putin had said Edward Snowden could receive asylum in Russia on condition he stops leaking US secrets. Photograph: Getty Images
In its first public response to Russia’s move to defy US wishes, the Obama administration said it was not a positive development for US-Russia relations and said that it undermined Russia’s record of law enforcement cooperation with the US.
The White House added that a planned autumn summit between US president Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin is being re-evaluated.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and private that Mr Snowden be expelled and returned to the United States,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Mr Carney said that Moscow had given the US no advance notice before announcing its decision to grant Mr Snowden asylum for one year.
But he added that the US has a wide-ranging relationship with Russia, suggesting the US was reluctant to allow relations to deteriorate too substantially over the American fugitive’s status.
Mr Snowden left the transit zone of a Moscow airport and officially entered Russia after authorities granted him asylum, his lawyer said.
The US demanded that Russia send Mr Snowden home to face prosecution for espionage over his leaks that revealed wide US electronic surveillance programs, but Mr Putin dismissed the request.
The move by Moscow could further strain US-Russian relations that have already been tested because of differences over Syria, American criticism of Russia’s human rights record and other disputes.
Mr Putin has said that his decision on asylum was contingent on Mr Snowden not hurting US interests. Mr Carney would not say whether Mr Snowden is in possession of further information about spying practices that could damage the US if released, but said the fact that Mr Snowden removed classified information from secure environments, bringing documents with him to Hong Kong and then to Moscow’s airport, posed a risk in and of itself “Mr Snowden is not a whistleblower or a dissident,” Mr Carney said.
“He is accused of leaking classified information. He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible.”
Mr Snowden has received papers that allow him to leave the transit zone of Moscow airport and enter Russia pending a decision on his request for asylum in Russia, according to his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena.
The lawyer said Mr Snowden can now leave Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport where he has been stuck since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23rd.
Mr Kucherena said that Mr Snowden’s whereabouts will be kept secret for security reasons.
The Guardian newspaper yesterday published a new report on US intelligence-gathering based on information from Mr Snowden, but Mr Kucherena said the material was provided before he promised to stop leaking.
Mr Snowden, who revealed details of a US intelligence programme to monitor internet activity, has received offers of asylum from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia and said he would like to visit those countries.
However, the logistics of reaching any of those countries are complicated because his US passport has been revoked.
The Snowden case has further strained US-Russian ties already tense amid differences over Syria, US criticism of Russia’s human rights record and other issues.
Mr Snowden’s father has said on Russian television that he would like to visit his son, and Mr Kucherena said he is arranging the trip.
Ties between Russia and the United States will not suffer because of the “relatively insignificant” case of the former US security contractor, a senior Kremlin official said on today.
“Our president has . . . expressed hope many times that this will not affect the character of our relations,” Yuri Ushakov told reporters, adding there was no sign that US president Barack Obama would cancel a planned visit to Moscow in September.