Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden will have to stop leaking US secrets if he wants to get asylum in Russia, President Vladimir Putin said yesterday – but he believes he has no intention of doing so.
Mr Putin’s statement came hours after Mr Snowden asked for political asylum, according to a consular official at the Moscow airport where the leaker has been caught in legal limbo for more than a week.
US president Barack Obama said there have been high-level discussions between the US and Russia about Mr Snowden’s expulsion, though Mr Putin repeated that Russia will not send him back to the United States.
Mr Putin’s stance could reflect a reluctance to shelter Mr Snowden, which would hurt already-strained US-Russian ties.
At the same time, the Russian leader seemed to keep the door open to allowing him to stay, a move that would follow years of anti-American rhetoric popular with Mr Putin’s core support base of industrial workers and state employees.
Mr Putin said: “If he wants to go somewhere and there are those who would take him, he is welcome to do so. If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: he must stop his activities aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners, no matter how strange it may sound coming from my lips.”
Mr Snowden has been stuck in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since his arrival from Hong Kong on 23 June. The US has annulled his passport, and Ecuador, where he hoped to get asylum, has been coy about whether it would take him.
Mr Putin insisted that Mr Snowden is not a Russian agent and that Russian security agencies have not contacted him.