Edward Snowden received a year’s asylum in Russia that ended his 39-day stay in a Moscow airport, prompting U.S. President Barack Obama to weigh cancellation of a planned summit next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Snowden, who faces espionage charges in the U.S. for disclosing secret surveillance programs, slipped out of Sheremetyevo Airport where he had been holed up since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23. He headed in a taxi for a “safe location” that won’t be disclosed, according to his Moscow-based lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Washington. “We have a wide range of interests with the Russians, and we are evaluating the utility of a summit.”
Russia brushed off demands for Snowden’s return from American officials including Attorney General Eric Holder, and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona called yesterday’s move a “deliberate effort to embarrass” the U.S.
The former U.S. contractor’s presence in Russia has raised tensions with its former Cold War foe before Obama is scheduled to make his first visit to Russia since Putin was re-elected to a third Kremlin term in March 2012. The two leaders are due to meet in Moscow in early September during Obama’s trip to Russia for a meeting of Group of 20 nations.
Moscow’s decision to give Snowden asylum drew demands from members of the U.S. Congress today for Obama to retaliate. Two lawmakers said Obama should boycott the Group of 20 meeting in St. Petersburg, as well as canceling the one-on-one session with Putin.
“Now that Snowden has been set free, I don’t think the G-20 should be meeting in Russia, and I think we should not participate if they do,” Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters at the Capitol.
Schumer, who said his view was shared by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said, “Russia stabbed us in the back, and every day that Snowden is allowed to be free, they twist the knife further.”
McCain said the U.S. should retaliate by expanding the Magnitsky Act enacted last year to sanction Russian officials deemed complicit in human-rights abuses and by pushing for completion of a missile-defense system in Europe.
The Obama administration, which has pressed Russia to expel Snowden to the U.S., received no advance notice that he was granted asylum, Carney said today.
“Mr. Snowden is not a whistle-blower,” Carney said. “He is accused of leaking classified information and has been charged with three felony counts, and he should be returned to the United States as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process and protections.”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment.
In a bid to persuade Russia to turn down Snowden’s asylum request, Holder has offered assurances that he wouldn’t be tortured or face the death penalty if he is returned to the U.S., according to a letter dated July 23.
Holder said that Snowden isn’t charged with a capital crime and pledged not to seek a death sentence against him even if he’s charged with additional violations that could carry the death penalty.
Snowden hasn’t transferred any confidential documents since his arrival in Russia, according to Kucherena. Putin has demanded that the 30-year-old cease activities that would harm U.S.-Russian relations.
The American, who withdrew an initial request for refuge in Russia early last month after Putin set the conditions for granting him sanctuary, has now agreed to Russia’s demand that he stop anti-U.S. activity, Kucherena has said.
“Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning,” Snowden said in a statement released by WikiLeaks. “I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations.”
Snowden left Sheremetyevo “under the care” of WikiLeaks’s legal adviser Sarah Harrison, the anti-secrecy group said on its Twitter Inc. account. WikiLeaks said Snowden’s welfare has been “continuously monitored” by its staff since he arrived in Hong Kong, according to the statement.
Snowden, whose efforts to reach a haven in Latin America have been blocked by the U.S. and its European allies, applied for 12-month renewable refugee status in Russia on July 16. The document issued by the Federal Migration Service yesterday allows him to travel freely in Russia without leaving the country.
Snowden, who exposed classified U.S. programs that collect telephone and Internet data, has been seeking asylum around the world as American authorities pressed for his return to face prosecution. Snowden revealed that the U.S. government was secretly collecting bulk data on phone and Internet use to monitor online activity of foreigners believed to be plotting terrorist attacks.
While Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have indicated they’d be willing to accept him, Putin has accused the U.S. of stranding Snowden in Moscow by putting pressure on other countries to deny him refuge and prevent his travel through their airspace.
“He’s the most wanted man on planet Earth and he’s wanted by an enormous country,” Kucherena said. While Russia’s state agencies won’t be charged with safeguarding Snowden, all necessary security precautions will be taken, he said.
Before Snowden was granted asylum, Obama administration officials repeatedly declined to confirm that the president would keep the commitment to meet with Putin for one-on-one talks in Moscow in conjunctions with the G-20 summit Sept. 5-6.
The Russian leader’s foreign-policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, said that Russia has received no signs that Obama’s trip may be canceled. The situation around Snowden has an “insignificant” effect on U.S.-Russia political relations, he told reporters today near Moscow.
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