Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on Wednesday that an already frosty relationship between his government and the United States would not be damaged if Russia granted asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
“Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are much more important than the squabbles around the activities of the security services,” Putin told reporters in eastern Siberia.
“We warned Mr. Snowden that any of his activities that cause damage to U.S.-Russian relations are unacceptable to us.”
Snowden, the former government contractor who disclosed details about U.S. phone and Internet surveillance programs, applied for temporary asylum in Russia on Tuesday. A lawyer representing Snowden told Russia’s Interfax news agency on Wednesday that the ex-CIA official could leave Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in the next few days.
The Obama administration has repeatedly warned the Putin regime not to give Snowden refuge since he faces a trio of espionage charges back on U.S. soil. If his application were approved, Snowden could stay in Russia for up to a year.
Putin on Wednesday accused U.S. officials of being hypocritical in their approach to human-rights activists — a label the Russian leader has applied to Snowden.
“Human rights work is generally associated with certain costs for those who do it,” he said. “When such activities are conducted under the auspices of the United States and with their financial support, information and political backing, it is comfortable enough to do. But if someone is going to criticize the United States itself, it is, of course, much more complicated.”
Snowden has reportedly told Russian officials he would stop leaking American secrets in exchange for temporary asylum. Ultimately, Snowden would like to relocate to Latin America, but such a plan is tricky since his passport has been revoked.
The White House contends that Snowden’s revelations made the United States less safe. And some, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have suggested the United States should boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi if Russia gives Snowden asylum.
Obama is scheduled to visit Russia for an international summit in September. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the president still “intends” to go to the G20 Summit; however, he did not say whether Obama would specifically meet with Putin in Moscow.