Putin acknowledges Snowden is 'trapped' in Russia
But he and Snowden agree on one thing: Snowden should leave Russia as soon as possible.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin indirectly addressed Edward Snowden's renewed request for political asylum in Russia, noting that the former National Security Agency contractor appears to be "trapped" in Russia. But, he added, he and Mr. Snowden are in agreement about about one important matter: he really shouldn't stay in Russia any longer than he needs to.
That said, Mr. Putin went on, Snowden has moved toward accepting the Kremlin's condition that in order to be granted refuge in Russia he must stop leaking damaging NSA secrets to the global public.
"As soon as there is an opportunity for [Snowden] to move elsewhere, I hope he will do that," Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying. "The conditions for granting political asylum are known to him. And judging by his latest actions, he is shifting his position. But the situation has not been clarified yet."
"There are certain relations between Russia and the United States, and we would not like you to harm them with your activity," said Putin, quoting Russian officials talking to Snowden during a conversation at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport after he arrived. "He said no. He said, ‘I want to continue my activity, fighting for human rights. I think the US is violating certain international regulations and intervening in private lives and my goal is to fight this.'"
Unless Snowden definitively changes his attitude, Putin said, Russia will not help him.
At a meeting with Russian human rights workers and parliamentarians at Sheremetyevo on Friday, Snowden insisted that his actions have not caused harm to the US, and said he would immediately renew his application for temporary asylum in Russia.
It's not clear whether Snowden's remarks meant that he intends to stop leaking NSA secrets. It may be out of his hands in any case. The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, who's been spearheading most of the revelations, told journalists last week that Snowden has already turned over a great many documents to him and he will be doing exposés based on them for months to come.
As for remaining in Russia, Snowden really doesn't seem able to move along – as Putin has repeatedly urged him to do – because the US has used all its tools of global influence to block Snowden's ability to travel anywhere beyond Moscow, Putin said.
"He arrived on our territory without an invitation, he was not flying to us. He was flying in transit to other countries. But as soon as he got in the air it became known, and our American partners, in fact, blocked his further flight," Putin said, referring to Snowden's stealthy June 23 flight from Hong Kong to Moscow aboard a Russian Aeroflot airliner.
Putin appeared to be claiming that Snowden's passport was only revoked after he boarded the Aeroflot plane, although other reports indicate that his passport was canceled at least a day before he fled Hong Kong. That would leave open the embarrassing question of how Hong Kong authorities and Aeroflot officials allowed him onto the Russian national airline's regular Moscow flight.
Snowden had an onward ticket from Moscow to Cuba for the next day, June 24, but he failed to use it for reasons that are still unclear.
"[The US] scared other countries. No one wants to accept him," Putin said.
According to some news reports, Putin added: "Such a present to us. Merry Christmas."
Putin's remarks suggest he may be leaning toward taking Snowden in at least temporarily, although the former KGB spy clearly has no enthusiasm whatsoever for an idealist who refuses to defect in the traditional manner and publicly opposes government secrecy on principle.
But many other Russians, including leading parliamentarians, have been urging the Kremlin to embrace the wayward ex-CIA employee who has done so much to undermine the image of the US as the global champion of freedom and democracy.
As of Monday, Russian officials were maintaining that they have not yet received any asylum requests from Snowden.
"There has been no application from Edward Snowden today," the independent Interfax agency quoted Konstantin Romadanovsky, director of Russia’s Federal Migration Service, as saying. "If an application is received, it will be examined under the established legal procedures."