US ties outweigh intelligence 'squabbles' - Putin

Former CIA employee Edward Snowden during a press conference Last week Mr Snowden gave a press conference at Sheremetyevo airport

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said bilateral relations with the US are more important than "squabbles between special services".

In his latest comments on fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, Mr Putin said he had been warned against any "activity that harms Russian-American relations".

On Tuesday Mr Snowden applied for temporary asylum in Russia.

He is wanted by the US for leaking details of surveillance programmes.

Mr Snowden has been in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for the past three weeks.

He has no travel documents, so has been unable to take up asylum offers from a number of Latin American states.

Mr Putin stressed on Wednesday that Russia was "an independent country and we have an independent foreign policy".

Responding to a question from the Interfax agency on what he thought the difference was between human rights activism and anti-American activity, Mr Putin replied that he would not "go into details".

A spokesman for Mr Putin previously said that the decision on whether Mr Snowden's asylum request would be granted was not Mr Putin's to make.

Mr Putin is clearly aware of the sensitivities involved, and the issue risks overshadowing talks with US President Barack Obama who is due to visit Russia in September, correspondents say.

'Torture' fears

On Wednesday Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer with strong links to the Kremlin who helped Mr Snowden with the paperwork for his asylum application, said he expected Mr Snowden would be able to leave the transit zone in Sheremetyevo "within days".

Mr Kucherena said he expected a decision to be made on the application within a week.

Russian media reaction

An editorial by Nezavisimaya Gazeta says: "Russia's leadership seems to be keen to maintain the calm atmosphere established in relations with the US. Both sides are exchanging measured statements. Snowden's stay in Sheremetyevo is a pain in the neck for both Putin and Obama."

Writing in the liberal paper Novaya Gazeta, commentator Yulia Latynina believes Mr Snowden is now under the "total control" of Russia's security services: "Putin has unintentionally done the US the best favour possible: He discredited Snowden completely."

The business daily Vedomosti quotes Ariel Koen, a senior researcher at the Heritage foundation, as saying that Russia is seeking to use Edward Snowden "to show its critics in the West that it respects human rights and freedoms", while President Obama's administration "has shown absolute incompetence".

Political scientist Kirill Benediktov writes in Izvestiya that Russia "definitely needs to approve Snowden's request", but adds that this is "not enough": "There needs to be a consistent policy of support for freedom of information within this country itself. It is more useful by far for Russia to appear in the eyes of the world as a country that observes the principle of freedom of information, rather than like another China, with its 'Great Firewall'."

Mr Kucherena previously said that Mr Snowden had stated in the application that he faced possible torture and execution if he returned to the US.

The White House reiterated its position that the fugitive should be expelled and face trial in the US.

"He is not a human rights activist. He is not a dissident. He's accused of leaking classified information," spokesman Jay Carney said.

Russian officials have said Mr Snowden might be moved to an airport facility for accommodating refugees while his application was being processed, which should take no more than three months.

Mr Snowden arrived in Russia on 23 June, having left Hong Kong, from where he had issued his leaks to the media.

But he is unable to leave the transit zone as he currently has no asylum documents or Russian visa, and the US has revoked his passport.

In addition, some European countries are likely to close their airspace to any plane suspected of carrying the fugitive.

Mr Snowden's leaking of thousands of classified US intelligence documents has led to revelations that the National Security Agency is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data.

The documents have also indicated that both the UK and French intelligence agencies allegedly run similarly vast data collection operations, and the US has been eavesdropping on official EU communications.

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