US president cancels bilateral talks in wake of Kremlin’s decision to grant asylum to intelligence leaker Snowden.
Russia has voiced disappointment with US President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel his Moscow summit with President Vladimir Putin, but said it remains ready to co-operate on bilateral and international issues.
Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters on Wednesday that Obama’s decision reflected the US’ inability to develop relations with Moscow on an “equal basis”.
At the same time, he said the invitation to the US president to visit Moscow next month still stands and added that “Russian representatives are ready to continue working together with American partners on all key issues on the bilateral and multilateral agenda”.
The cancellation of the summit underscores US dismay over Russia’s harbouring of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, as well as disagreements on other key issues, such as missile defence and Russia’s human rights record.
Snowden, an NSA systems analyst accused of leaking highly secretive details about the agency’s surveillance programs, was stuck in the transit zone of a Moscow airport for more than a month before Russia granted him asylum for one year last week.
Ushakov reiterated the Kremlin’s argument that Russia had no choice but to offer asylum to Snowden in the absence of a bilateral extradition agreement.
“This decision is clearly linked to the situation with former agent of US special services Snowden, which hasn’t been created by us,” Ushakov said in a conference call with reporters.
He sought to turn the tables on the US, accusing it of stonewalling on Russia’s proposal to sign a bilateral extradition agreement.
Alexei Pushkov, the Kremlin-connected chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, said that cancelling the summit would deprive Moscow and Washington of a chance to ease the current tensions.
“The US administration decided to pause on a negative note, but that won’t solve problems,” Pushkov said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
He called the move “irresponsible”.
Other lawmakers in the Kremlin-controlled parliament were even less diplomatic.
“If they postpone or cancel meetings over the refusal to extradite one person, international relations will freeze,” Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti state news agency.
“Obama’s decision is a show of disrespect to Russia.”
Joseph Dresen, a programme associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, told Al Jazeera that at the end of the day Snowden should not have a major impact on US-Russia relations and that business will be conducted as usual.
“Every country makes its own decision over who they extradite,” he said. “Both sides of the table have misplaced their hands a little bit.”