Snowden asylum further strains U.S.-Russia relations

Obama may cancel an upcoming summit following the granting of refugee status to the NSA whistle-blower

By Natasha Lennard
Published August 2, 2013 12:53PM (EDT)

As was announced Thursday, NSA whistle-blower left his limbo home of a Moscow airport terminal to a secure location in Russia, having been granted a year's temporary asylum by the Kremlin. While Russia has a sullied record when it comes to the treatment of whistle-blowers and dissenters in its own country (a fact Snowden himself recognized when naming South American nations as his first choice for asylum), Russia is certainly a place of greater safety for the leaker with limited options.

Meanwhile, Putin's decision to protect Snowden will serve to further strain already tense U.S.-Russian relations. White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and in private to have Mr. Snowden expelled to the United States to face the charges against him."

According to the AP, the Obama administration is considering canceling a scheduled diplomatic trip to Russia in light of the asylum decision:

Obama is scheduled to go to Russia in September for the Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg and also stop in Moscow for one-on-one talks Putin. The White House alternately has demanded that Russia return Snowden while also saying it doesn't want his case to negatively impact relations with Moscow.

Asked whether Obama would still travel to Moscow, Carney said pointedly, "We are evaluating the utility of a summit."

... Andrew Weiss, a former director of Russian affairs in the Clinton administration, said the Russians had sought an Obama visit so they could portray Putin as an important player on the world stage. But he said it now seems "all but inevitable" that Obama will have to cancel at least part of his trip to Russia in response.

Meanwhile, a number of lawmakers -- hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leading the charge -- continue to bay for Snowden's blood. In a joint statement, the senators wrote that "Russia's action today is a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States. It is a slap in the face of all Americans." New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer echoed the sentiment, stating, "Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife."

As Pfc. Bradley Manning faces up to 136 years in jail during the sentencing portion of his trial at Fort Meade, it is little surprise that despite reservations about Russia's human rights record, Snowden was keen to accept Russia's asylum offer.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Asylum Edward Snowden Kremlin Nsa Refugee Russia Vladimir Putin Whistle-blower