MOSCOW -- Looking to secure Russia's help on an array of issues, from Syria to nuclear arms cuts, President Obama at the Group of 8 summit meeting last week talked of his hope for "a constructive cooperative relationship that moves us out of a cold war mind-set."
But there are times when the old rivalry is as fierce as ever, when spying and counter-spying are a given. The arrival in Moscow of Edward J. Snowden was such a moment.
Ignoring demands by the White House, and even a personal entreaty by Secretary of State John Kerry, to intercept Mr. Snowden and return him to the United States, where he is accused of disclosing classified intelligence, the Russian government denied having any information about him.
The denials echoed Monday on state-controlled television and on news agencies close to the Kremlin, even as Russian police surrounded the Aeroflot jet that would presumably ferry Mr. Snowden to Cuba. They were repeated even as WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that is helping Mr. Snowden, said he had special travel papers from Ecuador for safe passage through Russia.
The White House, meanwhile, said that it believed Mr. Snowden was still in Russia, and some experts on U.S.-Russia relations said that belief made sense.
"The guy is supposedly carrying four laptops, plus a bunch of thumb drives, supposedly knows all sorts of other things," said Matthew Rojansky, the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "You don't pass up an opportunity like that. You don't just let him pass through the business lounge, on the way to Cuba."
The Russian Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the post-Soviet successor of the K.G.B., would not say if it had met Mr. Snowden. But Mr. Rojansky said if the agency had avoided Mr. Snowden, that would contradict the gut instincts for great gamesmanship.
"Not exclusively because of the cold war, but in part also because of national psyche and culture, these two sides are like Ninja masters who have taken up a new profession," he said. "It's like Mr. Miyagi at the cash register, and when a fly comes by they reach up and grab it."
The ability of the United States and Russia to jockey for intelligence advantage while maintaining their broader relationship was on display just last month when the F.S.B. arrested an American Embassy official here, carrying two wigs, a compass and a large sum of cash, and accused him of working for the Central Intelligence Agency.
In that case, both sides knew the playbook well: the official, Ryan C. Fogle, who had diplomatic immunity, was expelled.
Mr. Snowden's case was different, partly because he was passing through Russia by choice, as a fugitive, and partly because of the intelligence data he was said to be carrying.
While Mr. Obama seemed to go out of his way at the G-8 conference not to publicly chastise President Vladimir V. Putin over human rights disagreements, there was no such restraint on Monday by Mr. Obama's aides in the Snowden intrigue.
"I suppose there is no small irony here, I mean I wonder if Mr. Snowden chose China and Russia as assistants in his flight from justice because they are such powerful bastions of Internet freedom," Mr. Kerry said. "And I wonder while he was in either of those countries if he raised the question of Internet freedom since that seems to be what he champions."
And where just last week Mr. Obama was praising Russia for its cooperation with the investigation in the Boston Marathon bombing, Mr. Kerry warned on Monday of unspecified "consequences" for the relationship as a result of the Snowden case.
Nonetheless it seemed that more pressing priorities like Syria, and cooperation on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan next year, would far outweigh any tension over Mr. Snowden.
There is also a long history of disagreement over defectors that would suggest American officials have little hope for cooperation.
"I know of no instance where a Russian has defected for political reasons to the U.S. and we have returned them," said Pete Earley, the author of a book about Sergei Tretyakov, a senior Russian intelligence officer who defected in 2000, called "Comrade J.: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War."
More recently, the United States has refused Russia's demands to repatriate Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen convicted and imprisoned in the United States for arms trafficking.
Examples abound of alleged criminals sought by Russia that other governments have refused to extradite, including Leonid Nevzlin, a former executive of the Yukos oil company who fled to Israel and owned an apartment in New York.
Jasvinder Nakhwal, a partner with the British law firm of Peters & Peters, which has fought numerous extradition requests by Russia, said that both legal and political factors complicate any such situation, but that many Russian requests were blocked.
"They have sought the extradition of many individuals and in those particular cases the courts have concluded that the requests have been made for political purposes," Ms. Nakhwal said.
In that sense, the Snowden case has provided Russia with an opportunity to accuse the United States government of a politically motivated prosecution, a charge more frequently leveled against the Kremlin by American officials.
Mr. Rojansky, of the Carnegie Endowment, said that aiding Mr. Snowden fit with Russia's view of itself as a check on American hegemony.
"There's a real continuity in that narrative from cold war to post-cold-war – Russia is an alternative power center, truer to certain ideals," he said. "And this all kind of tracks with Putin's personal mantra: 'I have an independent foreign policy. I am the only world leader who has an independent foreign policy that is not dictated by Washington.'"
Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from New Delhi.
Correction: June 25, 2013, Tuesday
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to a partner with the British law firm Peters & Peters. The partner, Jasvinder Nakhwal, is a woman.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.