President Vladimir Putin says Russian-American ties are more important than the issue of the fugitive former U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, who is currently sheltering at a Moscow airport.
"Our bilateral ties, in my view, are much more important than any squabbles around the work of security services," Putin told journalists in the context of questions about tensions related to the U.S. contractor.
Snowden has been in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23 and has requested temporary asylum in Russia.
Putin said he was more focused on the task of developing U.S. relations.
"We have warned Mr. Snowden that any activity on his part that could harm Russian-U.S. relations is unacceptable to us," Putin said, repeating a warning from July 1
Despite Putin’s assurances, the U.S. government continues to insist that Snowden be handed over to U.S. authorities.
Information Snowden leaked about wide-ranging U.S. Internet and telephone surveillance programs has sparked an American debate about the legality of such measures and limits on government intrusions into people's private lives.
Reports about the once-secrect programs also caused friction in Washington's relations with a number of countries, including U.S. allies in Europe.
Earlier this month, the British daily "The Guardian" cited leaks by Snowden indicating Washington spied on 38 embassies and representative offices of its European and non-European allies, including France, Italy, Greece, Japan, and Turkey.
Shortly before that, Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine reported the EU's offices in Washington, New York, and Brussels were targeted and communications were monitored in Germany.
Putin has indicated that he wants Snowden to leave Russia as soon as suitable arrangements can be made.
Snowden has been offered asylum in several Latin American countries.
On July 16, White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated that Snowden should be handed over and face trial on charges of stealing government property and leaking classified information.
"Our position is that Mr. Snowden ought to be expelled and returned to the United States and that he should not be allowed to engage in further international travel except as necessary to return to the United States," Carney said. "He is not a human rights activist. He is not a dissident. He's accused of leaking classified information."
Russia's Federal Migration Service says it might take up to three months to decide whether to accept the asylum request Snowden officially filed on July 16.
The chairman of the public oversight committee at the Russian Interior Ministry, Anatoly Kucherena, who is helping Snowden with his request for temporary asylum in Russia, spoke to journalists about the case late on July 16.
"I think [Snowden] will leave [the airport] in the next few days," Kucherena said. "Certain documents still need to be processed, but I think this issue will be resolved within a week. And after that the issue of granting him temporary asylum will be addressed."
Kucherena said he was first approached by Snowden for help on July 12 when the American met with human rights groups and others at the airport.
Based on reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax