Washington: Fuming US lawmakers on Thursday warned Russia of a "firm response" after it granted one-year asylum to Edward Snowden, leaker of the NSA`s secret telephone and Internet surveillance programme.
Terming Moscow`s decision as a setback to US-Russia relations, top American Senators demanded that Snowden, 30, who is sought in the US on charges of espionage and leaking of classified information, be returned to America.
"Edward Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia," Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said.
"Regardless of the fact that Russia is granting asylum for one year, this action is a setback to US-Russia relations," Menendez said.
"Edward Snowden will potentially do great damage to US national security interests and the information he is leaking could aid terrorists and others around the world who want to do real harm to our country. Russia must return Snowden to face trial at home," he said.
Americans in Washington should consider this "a game changer" in US-Russia relationship, said Senator Lindsey Graham.
"Snowden has been charged with serious crimes and has put American lives at risk at home and abroad," he said.
"Today`s action by the Russian government could not be more provocative and is a sign of Vladimir Putin`s clear lack of respect for President (Barack) Obama."
"It is now time for Congress, hopefully in conjunction with the Administration, to make it clear to the Russian government that this provocative step in granting Snowden asylum will be met with a firm response," Graham said.
The White House or the State Department did not immediately react to the development.
Both the White House and the State Departments are scheduled to hold their regular daily briefings later in the day, during which the issue is expected to come up.
Senator John McCain said Russia`s action is a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the US.
"It is a slap in the face of all Americans. Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin`s Russia. We need to deal with the Russia that is, not the Russia we might wish for. We cannot allow today`s action by Putin to stand without serious repercussions," he said.
"The first thing we should do is significantly expand the Magnitsky Act list to hold accountable the many human rights violators who are still enjoying a culture of impunity in Russia. We should push for the completion of all phases of our missile defence programmes in Europe, and move expeditiously on another round of NATO expansion, including the Republic of Georgia," he said.
"We should challenge the political convictions and detentions of Russian dissidents such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Alexei Navalny. And perhaps most importantly, we should speak out on behalf of the many people in Russia who increasingly are finding the courage to peacefully demand greater freedom, accountability, and rule of law in Russia," McCain said.
"Today`s action by Putin`s Russia should finally strip away the illusions that many Americans have had about Russia the past few years. We have long needed to take a more realistic approach to our relations with Russia, and I hope today we finally start," he said.
"I think it probably hurt the relationship. You know, he`s undoubtedly, in my mind, a traitor to our country. And probably most of what he knows, the Russians already know; And it`s a gold mine for them," Senator Tom Coburn told MSNBC.