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Snowden's Presence May Scuttle Obama's Visit to Russia (Kommersant, Russia)


"Russia bears no responsibility for the Snowden situation. ... He flew into Moscow on his own initiative ...  his actions could absolutely be interpreted as those of a human rights activist ... the Snowden situation does put an additional strain on the already troubled relationship with Washington. ... Of course it would be better if this were resolved before Obama's visit to Moscow. ... but whether or not this will happen remains to be seen.” -- Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, Alexey Pushkov


By Kirill Belyaninov, Elena Chernenko, and Ivan Safronov


Translated By John Amor


July 9, 2013


Russia - Kommersant - Original Article (Russian)

Presence of Edward Snowden could scuttle Obama visit to Moscow


The prolonged stay in Russia of American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden threatens to aggravate relations with the United States. A source close to the U.S. State Department has made clear that Barack Obama could cancel his trip to Moscow planned for early September if by then the former NSA employee is still in Russia. However the Kremlin has assured Kommersant that the White House has not presented it with any ultimatum, and that preparations for the summit are going forward.


Snowden's presence in Moscow is making things all the more awkward for Russian authorities. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to his American counterpart, in which he congratulated him on the national holiday of Independence Day, and stressed his intention to meet with him in Moscow prior to the G20 summit in St. Petersburg. President Obama is due to spend September 3-4 in the capital. Citing informed sources, The New York Times reported that the U.S. president “is unlikely to visit Moscow if Mr. Snowden is still holed up at Sheremetyevo Airport.”


Kommersant's State Department source confirmed that certain arrangements were in place, explaining that the Department is in touch with Russian authorities through diplomatic channels. According to him, Washington has left open the question of Obama's participation in the September summit, not ruling out the possibility that Vice President Joe Biden might travel to St Petersburg instead.


However, U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan assured Kommersant that “President Obama intends to visit Russia in September,” albeit without specifying whether this referred only to the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, or to the meeting with Putin in Moscow as well.



A Kommersant source close to the U.S. administration elaborated: Obama's visit to Moscow would certainly be cancelled if Russia were to grant Edward Snowden asylum. However, that scenario is unlikely. The fugitive himself abandoned the notion of remaining in Russia after Vladimir Putin suddenly announced that in order to remain, he would have to cease his anti-American activity. At the same time, Russia hasn't agreed to U.S. demands that it deport the fugitive to a third country, where he could be handed over to the Americans. According to Kommersant, (July 4), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had the request put to him by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.


Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Kommersant, “the Kremlin knows nothing about this (White House ultimatum)." As he sees it, the work being carried out in preparation for Obama's visit to Russia testifies to the contrary. “We are in constant touch with our American colleagues, endeavoring to make this meeting as big an event as possible” he said.


“The situation is crystal clear. Russia is not responsible for the fact that Mr. Snowden is unable to leave the transit zone,” added Mr. Peskov. On this matter, Kommersant's source at the Kremlin pointed out “in the context of Putin's announcement on an asylum deal for Snowden, an ultimatum would seriously complicate relations between the two countries, and through no fault of the Russian Federation.”


Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, Alexey Pushkov, stated that, “Russia bears no responsibility for the Snowden situation. ... He flew into Moscow on his own initiative,” reminded the deputy, adding that there was “no reason” to extradite the fugitive to the United States, as his actions “could absolutely be interpreted as those of a human rights activist.” At the same time, the politician admitted that, “the Snowden situation does put an additional strain on the already troubled relationship with Washington. ... Of course it would be better if this were resolved before Obama's visit to Moscow. ... but whether or not this will happen remains to be seen.”


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On Friday, Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro declared his readiness to grant Snowden asylum, explaining that he intends to “offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden so that he can come and live here, away from the persecution of American imperialism.” Following this, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega also stated that his country would receive Snowden “with pleasure,” provided that “circumstances permit.” On Saturday Bolivian President Evo Morales made a similar offer, promising to grant asylum to the former NSA employee if he should request it.


According to Kommersant's State Department source, in the course of their recent visit to Moscow for the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, the Venezuelan and Bolivian leaders discussed the fate of Edward Snowden with the Russian leadership. However, the State Department refuses to confirm this officially. Recall that Vladimir Putin said, “The quicker Mr. Snowden chooses an end point to his stay here, the better it will be both for us and for him.”


“He now has a choice” Duma member Alexey Pushkov told Kommersant, commenting on the offers from Latin American leaders. Meanwhile Snowden cannot simply head off to those countries that are prepared to receive him. There are no direct flights between Moscow and Caracas, La Paz, or Managua. The flight would have to make a stopover, most likely in Havana - and even this would not be easy.


Last week, the aircraft of the Bolivian president was forced to make an emergency landing in Vienna, after a number of European countries forbade him from crossing their airspace over suspicions that Snowden was aboard his plane. In Vienna, the president's plane was searched and then allowed to leave, the fugitive not having been found. In the opinion of Latin American leaders, this “provocation” was organized on orders of the United States. Mr. Pushkov gave no response when asked by Kommersant how exactly Edward Snowden was to make his way to his final destination, remarking only that “there are questions that, today, we have no answers to.”

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Posted By Worldmeets.US June 9, 2013, 9:18am