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Russia faces US fury over Snowden asylum

The White House said it was "extremely disappointed" by Moscow's decision to grant Snowden asylum

AFP , Friday 2 Aug 2013
Fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden's new refugee documents granted by Russia is seen during a news conference in Moscow August 1, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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Russia on Friday faced fury from the United States after granting asylum to fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden and allowing him to walk free from an airport transit zone where he was marooned for over five weeks.

The whereabouts of Snowden -- who is wanted by the United States after leaking details of vast US surveillance programmes -- are now a mystery with his lawyer refusing to disclose the location for security reasons.

The White House said it was "extremely disappointed" by Moscow's decision to grant Snowden asylum, adding that it would now review the need for a planned summit between President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin in September.

The former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor left Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Friday and took a taxi to a secret location. He now has temporary asylum in Russia for a year.

On Friday, Life News website published a photograph showing Snowden smiling broadly as he walked through the airport with a rucksack on his back and carrying another bag.

He was shown accompanied by his Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena and a staff member of WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website, Sarah Harrison, as well as an unidentified dark-haired woman.

Snowden and Harrison had stayed in the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo airport north of Moscow since flying in from Hong Kong on June 23.

Kucherena said Snowden would eventually emerge into public view and give media interviews but that the fugitive first required an "adaptation course" after so long in the transit zone.

"He has sorted out where he will live, everything is fine," Kucherena told the RIA Novosti news agency Friday, refusing to give further details.

WikiLeaks said in a statement Snowden is now in a "secure, confidential place".

Snowden thanked Russia and slammed the administration of US President Barack Obama for having "no respect" for international or domestic law.

"But in the end the law is winning," he said in the WikiLeaks statement.


'Relations will not develop now'


Russia's decision to award Snowden asylum status came two days after US soldier Bradley Manning was convicted of espionage for passing US secrets to WikiLeaks.

The White House warned Russia's decision could prompt Obama to cancel a planned visit to Moscow for talks with Putin ahead of the Saint Petersburg G20 summit.

"We're extremely disappointed," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. "We're evaluating the utility of a summit in light of this."

"This move by the Russian government undermines a long-standing record of law enforcement cooperation," he added.

Obama himself declined to comment when pressed by reporters in an Oval Office briefing.

Putin has yet to comment on Snowden's temporary asylum. He is due to meet youth supporters at an annual summer camp later Friday.

Robert Menendez, chairman of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the asylum as a "setback" for US-Russia relations.

But Putin's foreign policy advisor Yury Ushakov on Thursday sought to limit the potential diplomatic damage. "This situation is rather insignificant and should not influence political relations between Russia and the US," Ushakov said.

On Friday the news anchor of Channel One television, seen as a Kremlin mouthpiece, said it was an "open question whether the meeting of the two presidents will take place in Moscow in September".

By granting asylum to Snowden, Russia has further strained already tense Russia-US relations, analysts said.

"The basis on which the US can continue holding a conversation with the Russia is getting seriously narrower," Dmitry Trenin, who heads the Moscow Carnegie Center, told Kommersant daily.

"You can't say that relations between Moscow and Washington will be wound up, but they will not be able to develop now."

Russian politicians praised Moscow for asserting its independence by granting Snowden's asylum, however.

"Any other decision would have been a loss of face for Russia. If we hadn't provided Snowden with asylum, people would stop seeing Russia as a force to be reckoned with," a lawmaker for ruling United Russia party, Vyacheslav Nikonov, who visited Snowden in the airport last month, the told Kommersant daily.

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