WASHINGTON, August 21 (by Karin Zeitvogel for RIA Novosti) – A senior US congressman said Wednesday that Washington would be “shooting itself in the foot” if it allows the row with Russia over US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden to further sour relations between the two countries and get in the way of a unique kinship between Russians and Americans.
“Russia and the United States need each other… and I’m hoping that this incident is not used by those in power here to block expanding levels of cooperation. If we do that, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who has jurisdiction for US-Russia relations through his chairmanship of the Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats Subcommittee, told RIA Novosti in a telephone interview.
Relations between Moscow and Washington nosedived earlier this month after Russia granted temporary asylum to Snowden, who is wanted by the United States on espionage and theft charges for leaking classified information about the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) sweeping telephone and electronic surveillance programs.
Snowden fled the United States in June, first to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, where he spent six weeks in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport before Russia granted him asylum.
Rohrabacher called on US officials to “quit villainizing Russia and try to find a way to work with Russia” to counter bigger threats than the fugitive asylum-seeker, namely “radical Islam,” which Rohrabacher has said in the past is “at the throats” of Americans and Russians, and the emerging threat of China, which he has called the world’s biggest human rights abuser and a serial technology thief.
“Making Mr. Snowden a big issue is very counterproductive” and should not be allowed to get in the way of the unique kinship between Americans and Russians, the Republican from California told RIA Novosti.
“I like Russian people. I like their spirit, I like their sense of humor. They remind me a lot of American people and, frankly, I’m trying to think who else I can say that about,” said Rohrabacher, who has visited Russia several times.
“There’s a camaraderie of the spirit and the soul between the Russian people and the American people and we shouldn’t let something like Snowden get in the way of that,” he said.
He slammed as “ridiculous and absolutely absurd” calls by some US lawmakers for a boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, adding: “People should be talking about boycotting something put on by the NSA or US federal government for trying to expand the arena of surveillance in a free state.”
“I mean, for Pete’s sake, it’s our government that’s acting in a tyrannical way here,” he said.
Rohrabacher asserted that most Americans do not see Snowden as a traitor but as a whistleblower, who “was alerting the American people that their government is getting out of hand” by giving the NSA carte blanche to build a system that “keeps a record of every phone call and every email every American makes.”
Noting the irony of Snowden fleeing to Russia after “exposing an oppressive level of government surveillance of the population” – something he said Americans have long associated with the former Soviet Union – Rohrabacher voiced the hope that Snowden would eventually return to the United States to face lesser charges than the federal charge of espionage, which carries the death penalty.
But, he added, it was likely to be a few years before “this blows over.”