Snowden walks free in Russia; U.S. upset

Moscow’s granting of asylum likely signals uneasy feelings between the two superpowers.

LOS ANGELES TIMESAugust 2, 2013 

The question is not whether the decision will hurt U.S.-Russian relations; rather, it’s how bad the damage will be.

Russian officials maintained Thursday that the action was “insignificant” in the overall relationship with Washington. But the White House reacted angrily, a probable reflection of lowered expectations in President Barack Obama’s second term.

For much of his first term, Obama was eager to strengthen ties with Russia to enlist the Kremlin’s help on an array of issues. Now the need has passed in some areas, such as Afghanistan, where the U.S.-led war is winding down. In others, the administration has concluded that the Russians probably never will help.

“We’re headed for a very rocky period in U.S.-Russian relations, make no mistake,” said Andrew Weiss, a White House expert on Russia during the Clinton administration who is now vice president for research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Speaking hours after Snowden’s lawyer announced that his client had been granted one-year asylum in Russia, White House press secretary Jay Carney said U.S. officials were “extremely disappointed” that Moscow had ignored American appeals to return him for trial.

Carney signaled that the administration might cancel a meeting planned for next month in Moscow between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. officials have been arguing for weeks that Russia needed to return Snowden, despite the absence of an extradition treaty between the countries.

Instead of heading for the U.S., where he faces three felony charges for leaking classified information, Snowden, 30, left the transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport for an undisclosed location Thursday afternoon. He was accompanied by Sarah Harrison, a legal adviser to WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization announced. He had been stuck at the airport since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23.

In a statement released by Wiki-Leaks, Snowden thanked the Russians. “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,” he said.

The temporary asylum grant will allow Snowden to travel anywhere in Russia and possibly to work there. The document might be extended indefinitely on an annual basis but would be canceled if Snowden were to leave the country.

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