United States President Donald Trump is expected to pressure Russia to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in exchange for sanctions relief at the upcoming Trump-Putin summit; however, Russia has emphasized that they “are not in a position” to expel Snowden and will “respect his rights” if any such attempt is made.
“I have never discussed Edward Snowden with (Donald Trump’s) administration,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to Channel 4 reporters. “When he (Putin) was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide. We respect his rights, as an individual. That is why we were not in a position to expel him against his will because he found himself in Russia even without a U.S. passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong.”
Snowden, who is being prosecuted in the United States for leaking classified documents that showed surveillance abuse by U.S. intelligence agencies, was given political asylum in Russia after his passport was revoked.
“Edward Snowden is the master of his own destiny,” Lavrov said.
Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, where Putin is expected to push for an end to U.S. sanctions. Trump has said he would like better relations with Russia, perhaps as a way of pulling them away from China, but Trump’s opponents in the United States are already applying political pressure on him for holding the summit, in the midst of the tensest U.S.-Russian relations since the height of the Cold War.
The fate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also lay in the balance when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno this week.
“The vice president raised the issue of Mr. Assange. It was a constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward,” a White House official said in a statement.
Julian Assange has lived in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, with an arrest warrant in Britain preventing him from leaving the embassy.