, WASHINGTON, August 1 – Russia’s grant of asylum to intelligence leaker Edward Snowden marked a sharp set back to already strained US Russian relations, experts and lawmakers said Thursday.
US President Barack Obama’s administration once hoped to “re-set” relations with the United States’ former Cold War foe, but his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has remained frosty.
Snowden, a former intelligence contractor, is wanted by Washington for leaking secret details about US surveillance programs and he had been holed up at a Moscow airport for more than a month.
But Russia refused to extradite him, instead providing the 30 year old safe haven for a year on Thursday and allowing him to promptly slip away to a secret location.
“This is not good news,” said Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
Prominent members of the US Congress slammed Russia’s move, seeing it as a dent in relations between Washington and Moscow, already strained by the conflict in Syria and the conviction of Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny.
“Edward Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia,” said Robert Menendez, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Regardless of the fact that Russia is granting asylum for one year, this action is a setback to US Russia relations.”
Republican Senator John McCain, meanwhile, issued a sarcastic response on Twitter.
“Snowden stays in the land of transparency and human rights. Time to hit that reset button again #Russia,” he wrote.
It remains to be seen whether the White House will go so far as to boycott a planned US-Russia presidential summit in early September ahead of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg.
But White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday seemed to suggest that was a possibility.