WASHINGTON, August 1 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to fugitive former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden deals a blow to bilateral ties, US lawmakers said Thursday.
“Regardless of the fact that Russia is granting asylum for one year, this action is a setback to US-Russia relations,” US Sen. Robert Menendez said in a statement Thursday, hours after Snowden’s lawyer in Moscow announced his client had been granted one year asylum in Russia and left a transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
The White House had not commented on the report as of Thursday morning but was expected to make a statement later in the day.
Menendez, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said Snowden “will potentially do great damage to US national security interests” and that his leaks on secret US government surveillance programs “could aid terrorists and others around the world who want to do real harm to our country.”
“Russia must return Snowden to face trial at home,” Menendez said.
Sen. Tom Coburn said in a television interview with MSNBC on Thursday that Snowden’s asylum “probably hurts the relationship” between Russia and the United States.
“He’s undoubtedly in my mind a traitor to our country and probably most of what he knows, the Russians already know. … It’s a gold mine for them,” Coburn said.
In a post on his Twitter feed Thursday morning, Sen. John McCain, a consistent and fierce critic of the Kremlin, needled Snowden for seeking refuge in a country that has come under fire from Western governments and rights groups both inside and outside Russia over its record on human rights.
“Snowden stays in the land of transparency and human rights. Time to hit that reset button again,” McCain said, referring to the so-called “reset” policy with Russia that US President Barack Obama embarked on to better ties with the Kremlin after taking office four years ago.
Snowden is wanted in the United States on espionage and theft charges after leaking classified information about the US National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.
Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer helping Snowden, told RIA Novosti on Thursday that the fugitive had been given an official document granting him temporary asylum for one year in Russia, allowing him to leave the Sheremetyevo Airport transit zone where he has been staying since arriving in Moscow on a flight from Hong Kong on June 23.
Snowden formally applied for temporary asylum in Russia on July 16.
Menendez said Thursday that Snowden “is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia.”
Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters in Moscow on Thursday that Snowden’s asylum “is not important enough to affect political relations” between the United States in Russia, adding that Moscow was interested in the development of ties with Washington “in all areas.”