Edward Snowden’s long layover may be over if Russia grants him temporary asylum. But will it?
The country has the G-20 summit coming up. And while the White House has said President Barack Obama will attend the gathering in St. Petersburg, it isn’t saying whether he’ll stop in Moscow.
That’s not the kind of embarrassment President Vladimir Putin wants to risk over the American intelligence leaker.
During a visit to Ireland in June, Obama and Putin talked – and agreed to a one-on-one session in Moscow before the summit kicks off.
But that was before Snowden turned up in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport – and after three long weeks, applied for temporary asylum Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the White House left Obama’s schedule purposefully vague, playing coy with reporters who tried to illicit a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
“The President intends to travel to Russia in September for the G-20 summit and I don’t have any further announcements with regards to that travel,” spokesman Jay Carney said.
Snowden’s leaks exposed sweeping U.S. electronic surveillance programs, embarrassed the Obama administration, and elicited howls of protests from privacy rights groups. The U.S. wants him home to face espionage charges.
“Our interest has always been in seeing him expelled from Russia and returned to the United States,” Carney said Tuesday.
Snowden’s move to apply for temporary asylum was a calculated one.
Political asylum would have required the approval of the Kremlin; a temporary asylum needs only the approval of the Russian Federal Migration Service.
This frees Putin from ownership of the decision. But it’s hard to believe that any decision regarding Snowden is made without his input.
Both Washington and Moscow hope Snowden’s presence in Russia don’t claim the leaders’ private meeting as an unwanted casualty.
Putin has said he’s made it clear to Snowden that he doesn’t want him participating in any “activity that harms Russian-American relations.”
“As soon as he’s allowed to go somewhere else, I hope he will do that,” Putin told a group of students Monday.
But Putin, always eager to be somewhat defiant, also pointed out that the U.S. orchestrated some of its own mess.
“(They) scared all the other countries such that no one wants to take him, and thereby blockaded him on our territory,” he said.
Both leaders concede the U.S.-Russia relationship is strong enough to withstand one hacker.
“I'm not going to have one case of a suspect who we are trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so that he can face the justice system in the United States,” Obama said during a trip to Senegal in June.
For his part, Putin told journalists, “Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are much more important than squabbles around the activities of the security services.”
For now, Snowden remains in transit - and a thorn on the side of Obama.