WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia’s decision to grant asylum to Edward Snowden has upset the Obama administration and angered Congress. But it’s unlikely the 30-year-old National Security Agency leaker will destroy tense ties between two powers that have moved past their half-century Cold War for global supremacy
The two countries’ relationship is already difficult because of issues including missile defense, human rights and Syria’s civil war.
After Snowden left the transit zone of Moscow’s airport and officially entered Russia on Thursday, the White House said it was “extremely disappointed” and suggested President Barack Obama would reconsider his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow later this year.
U.S. lawmakers demanded that Russia give up its right to host a summit of the world’s biggest economies and asked whether Washington and Moscow can now cooperate at all.
Some in Congress suggested boycotting next year’s Winter Olympics in the southern Russian city of Sochi.
“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,” said Sen. John McCain, a leading Republican and former presidential candidate. “Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin’s Russia.”
Retaliation against Russia comes at a cost. Putin has proved over more than a decade in power that he’ll respond to perceived offenses from the United States.
And the U.S. knows it needs Putin to promote a range of American national security interests.
Without the Kremlin’s help, the U.S. would have a harder time containing terrorist groups in the South Caucasus, ensuring supply routes to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And it would have no chance of persuading Syrian President Bashar Assad to join rebels in peace talks to end a war that has killed 100,000 people and pulled Washington and Moscow onto opposing sides.
The U.S. has demanded that Russia send Snowden home to face prosecution on espionage charges over his leaks that revealed widespread U.S. telephone and Internet surveillance.
Putin has said asylum would require that Snowden not leak any more materials.
Paul Saunders, executive director of the conservative Center for National Interest think tank, said the Obama administration made a mistake in asserting worldwide pressure to prevent Snowden from finding a new home.
“The administration backed Moscow into a corner, thinking that would press them to give in,” he said. “In fact, it just made them harden their position.”
Speaking to reporters, White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to outline what consequences Russia might face.
He suggested only that Obama was reconsidering his upcoming meeting with Putin, which was supposed to focus on the Syrian civil war and improving the countries’ relationship.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, a leading Democrat, called on Obama to recommend moving the G-20 summit of world leaders in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5-6.
“Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife,” Schumer said.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed.