FUGITIVE United States intelligence whistle blower Edward Snowden yesterday met human rights groups and lawyers at a Moscow airport – his first public appearance in three weeks.
In a statement, Mr Snowden said he was requesting asylum in Russia because he was unable to travel to Latin America, where Venezuela had granted him asylum.
He had dropped an earlier Russian application after officials in Moscow said he could stay only if he stopped leaking sensitive US government data.
A spokesman for the Kremlin reiterated this condition yesterday.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said: “Mr Snowden could hypothetically stay in Russia if he first, completely stops the activities harming our American partners and US-Russian relations and, second, if he asks for this himself,”
Mr Snowden is wanted by the US on charges of revealing secrets about National Security Agency surveillance schemes.
He is understood to have sent requests for political asylum to at least 20 countries, most of which have turned him down.
The 30-year-old American is unable to leave the transit zone without asylum documents, a valid passport or a Russian visa, none of which he reportedly has.
Mr Snowden is believed to have stayed in the transit zone since 23 June, when he arrived on a flight from Hong Kong, where he had gone before his revelations were made public.
He had been expected to transfer in Moscow to a Cuba-bound flight, but did not get on the plane.
Speaking after yesterday’s meeting at Sheremetyevo airport, Russian politician Vyacheslav Nikonov said Mr Snowden had not specified if he was seeking temporary or permanent asylum in Russia.
He said: “He said that he needs asylum in Russia to freely move around.
“It suits him perfectly well staying in the airport because everything is fine here. The only thing he wants is to be given freedom of movement.”
Both Mr Nikonov and Genri Reznik, another lawyer who took part in yesterday’s meeting, said Mr Snowden was willing to stop the leaks.
Mr Nikonov said: “He said he was informed of this condition and that he can easily accept it. He does not intend to damage the United States’ interests given that he is a patriot of his country.”
They were joined by a number of human rights activists at the meeting included Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International’s Russia office, and Tatiana Lokshina, deputy head of the Russian office of Human Rights Watch.
Russia’s presidential human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, was also present at the airport meeting, it was confirmed.
Ms Lokshina said: “He wants to stay here until he can fly to Latin America.”
She earlier posted the text of Mr Snowden’s invitation e-mail on her Facebook page.
In the message, the fugitive complained the US government was waging an “unlawful campaign” to prevent him from securing asylum.
“This dangerous escalation represents a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution,” the message read.
The e-mail said he wanted to discuss the “next steps forward” in his situation.
Mr Snowden made an initial bid for Russian asylum, but Mr Putin said he would have to agree to stop the leaks before asylum would be considered. Mr Snowden then withdrew his bid.
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua recently offered him asylum, but it is unclear if he could fly to any of those countries from Moscow without passing through airspace of the United States or its allies.