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Snowden asylum sends US-Russia relations tumbling to post-cold war low

Edward Snowden has been granted refugee status in Russia for one year. Angry members of Congress are calling on President Obama to cancel a planned visit to Russia in September.

By Staff writer / August 1, 2013

Fugitive former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden's new refugee documents granted by Russia are seen during a news conference in Moscow Thursday. Mr. Snowden slipped quietly out of the airport on Thursday after securing temporary asylum in Russia, ending more than a month in limbo in the transit area.

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

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Washington

Russia on Thursday became the first country to take formal action assisting fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden in his battle with the US government – plunging already testy US-Russia relations to what some experts say are their lowest level since the cold war.

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Russia granted Mr. Snowden temporary refugee status – valid for one-year and renewable – allowing him to leave Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where the former intelligence contractor who leaked details of secret telephone and e-mail surveillance programs had been holed up for more than a month eluding US law enforcement.

Russia’s action received immediate praise from the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, which has been counseling Snowden in his legal fight and information-divulging activities.

But it was quickly condemned both at the White House and by some in Congress – some of whom are calling for slapping Russia with a wide-ranging list of consequences.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that President Obama is “extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step.” The move “undermines a long record of law-enforcement cooperation” between the two countries, he said, before suggesting that the impact of Russia’s action is likely to permeate deeper in bilateral relations.

Asked if Mr. Obama still expects to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in September as planned, Carney said, “We are evaluating the utility of a summit in light of this.”

Reaction in Congress was less diplomatic. Calling Snowden “a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey said in a statement that by harboring someone who “will potentially do great damage to US national security interests,” Russia had dealt “a setback to US-Russia relations.”

Sen. John McCain blasted Russia’s action as “a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States,” adding, “Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin’s Russia.” The US should respond by expanding recent legislation targeting Russian human-rights violators, by moving forward with an expansion of NATO despite Russian concerns, and by completing the missile defense systems in Europe that Russia opposes, he said.

“Perhaps most importantly,” Senator McCain said, “we should speak out on behalf of the many people in Russia who increasingly are finding the courage to peacefully demand greater freedom, accountability, and rule of law in Russia.”

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