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Putin: Snowden case must not damage US-Russia relations

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and NSA Leaker Edward Snowden (AP/ Human Rights Watch)

Russian President Vladimir Putin says NSA leaker Edward Snowden has been warned against taking any actions that would damage relations between Moscow and Washington.

Snowden has applied for temporary asylum in Russia, three weeks after arriving at one of Moscow's international airports from Hong Kong. The United States wants him sent home to face prosecution for espionage.

Granting Snowden asylum would add new tensions to U.S.-Russian relations already strained by criticism of Russia's pressure on opposition groups, Moscow's suspicion of U.S. missile-defense plans and Russia's resistance to sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

On a visit to the Siberian city of Chita on Wednesday, Putin said "we have warned Mr. Snowden that any actions by him connected with harming Russian-American relations are unacceptable," according to Russian news agencies. Reuters reported that Putin added "Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are far more important than squabbles about the activities of the secret
services,'' when asked if the Snowden affair would cast a shadow over a scheduled U.S.-Russia summit in September. 

Putin did not say whether he expected Russia to grant Snowden temporary asylum. Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer, told the Associated Press Wednesday that Russian law does not provide a specific time frame to consider an asylum request. 

On Monday, Putin described Snowden's arrival as an unwelcome present foisted on Russia by the United States. He said that Snowden flew to Moscow intending only to transit to another country, but that the U.S. intimidated other countries into refusing to accept him, effectively blocking the fugitive from flying further.

During a meeting Friday in Sheremetyevo's transit zone, Snowden argued that he hadn't hurt U.S. interests in the past and has no intention of doing that in the future.

Putin did not say Monday if that would be sufficient grounds for asylum, adding that Snowden apparently did not want to stay in Russia permanently.

Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum, but getting there from Moscow without passing through U.S. airspace or that of Washington's allies would be difficult. The U.S. has annulled his passport.

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