Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked top-secret information revealing US surveillance programs, has been languishing in a Moscow airport for over a week. But maybe he won't be there for long.
Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin have ordered the heads of their respective security agencies to solve the stalemate over Mr. Snowden. This marks a change in Mr. Putin’s previous hands-off approach.
Snowden, who is wanted by the US on charges of espionage, arrived at Shremetyevo Airport last week after fleeing Hong Kong. However, since he never left the transit area of the international terminal, according to Russian law he never crossed a border into Russia. And for a week, Snowden has had nowhere to go.
Ecuador's leader has said his country cannot move forward on Snowden's asylum request until he formally applies in country or at an Ecuadorean embassy. Until today, Putin had claimed Snowden's whereabouts as a reason for inaction. According to Russia Beyond The Headlines, Mr. Putin stated that, as Snowden has not yet entered the territory of the Russian Federation, he is not their concern.
But Putin's postured indifference changed today when officials disclosed that he had ordered Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) to cooperate with the FBI to resolve the issue, reports Sky News. In a press conference today, Putin also said that Snowden should stop leaking US secrets.
"Snowden is free to go but if he decides to stay, he has to stop his work directed to hurt our American partners. I know that this kind of statement sounds strange from me," Putin said.
Putin’s position is not shared by other Russian officials, who have made their support of Snowden known. Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, told Russia’s Public Chamber that society has an obligation to protect Snowden, as his actions were motivated by the public good, reports state-owned news agency Ria Novosti. And he is not alone on this position:
Some members of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, have voiced their support for Snowden, with the United Russia party representative Alexander Sidyakin saying that Snowden is a worthy candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Lawmaker and first deputy chair of the State Duma’s International Relations Committee Svetlana Zhurova drew attention to what she called the “humanitarian component” regarding the possibility of Snowden being arrested in Russia and handed over to the United States.
Putin seemed to rule out that possibility today even before negotiations with the US begin, telling reporters that Russia "never hands over anybody anywhere."
But just where Snowden will wind up remains up in the air. Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks and one of Snowden’s most vocal supporters, told ABC in an interview that the US cancelled Snowden’s passport, leaving him stranded, reports the Washington Post. Mr. Assange and Wikileaks have provided considerable material support to Snowden.
Snowden recently met with Russian diplomatic officials in Shremetyevo Airport and reportedly handed them a document containing appeals for asylum to 15 different countries, as well as a recapitulation of his motives, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It was a desperate measure on his part after Ecuador disavowed his political protection credentials,” said [a Russian] official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Whatever Snowden’s eventual fate, his allies are rejecting Putin's call for an end to the leaks about the NSA.
Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first published Snowden's secrets, tweeted after Putin's press conference that "Snowden's leak is basically done. It's newspapers - not Snowden - deciding what gets disclosed and in what sequence."
And Assange said earlier that measures have been taken to ensure that Snowden’s documents are published, regardless of what happens to him.
"Look, there is no stopping the publishing process at this stage," Assange said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" television show. "Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can't be pressured by any state to stop the publication process."
Assange did not directly respond when asked if WikiLeaks was in possession of the files.