President Vladimir Putin said Edward Snowden must quit hurting American interests if he wants to remain in Russia, after an official said the fugitive U.S. whistleblower applied for asylum here.
“If he wants to stay, there’s one condition: He must stop his activity aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as it sounds coming from my lips,” Putin, a frequent critic of U.S. policy, told reporters in the Kremlin yesterday. Snowden, who also applied for refuge in 20 other countries, according to WikiLeaks, is unlikely to accept that restriction, Putin said.
The Russian president defied U.S. calls last week to hand over Snowden, who remained stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport days after arriving on June 23 from Hong Kong. The former worker for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH:US) has said he was the source of leaks on top-secret U.S. National Security Agency programs that collect phone and Internet data.
“Our position is the same -- that he should be expelled and returned home here to the U.S.” to face espionage charges, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at a briefing yesterday when asked about reports of Snowden’s asylum request. Ventrell said it was “up to the Russians” to confirm it.
Snowden’s application was delivered on the evening of June 30 to a visa office at Sheremetyevo by WikiLeaks’ legal adviser Sarah Harrison, a consular official who received the document, Kim Shevchenko, said by phone.
Shevchenko said he informed his superiors of the application and sent it by courier. “I don’t know what has happened with it since,” he said.
European officials demanded more information yesterday on the latest revelation stemming from Snowden’s releases, a report in the German magazine Der Spiegel that the NSA eavesdropped and infiltrated computer networks of the European Union. The report cited classified documents in Snowden’s possession.
“Given the fact that he feels that he is a human-rights defender, he is unlikely to stop such work, so that is why he should choose a country of destination and go there,” Putin said. “When that will happen, unfortunately, I don’t know.”
Snowden, 30, can’t be handed over because Russia and the U.S. don’t have an extradition treaty, Putin has said.
“The only country in the world which is ready to enter into conflict with the U.S. over the fate of the fugitive American turned out to be Russia,” leading Russian newspaper Kommersant said in a front-page article today.
Snowden had previously requested asylum in Ecuador. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden asked President Rafael Correa to reject Snowden’s bid, the Ecuadorean leader said in a radio address June 29. Ecuadorean officials have said that Snowden would have to make his way to their country or one of its embassies to apply in person before they would weigh whether to take him in.
Nothing that happens to Snowden can stop the release of more information he possesses about classified U.S. programs, said Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that publishes government documents on its website.
“Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can’t be pressured by any state to stop the publication process,” Assange, who’s been holed up at Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than a year after the country granted him asylum, said June 30 on ABC’s “This Week” program.
WikiLeaks posted a statement on its website yesterday that it attributed to Snowden in Moscow. It quoted him as saying that “the Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person.”
Harrison filed requests for asylum on Snowden’s behalf with more than dozen countries on June 30, WikiLeaks said on its website. In addition to Russia, those countries include Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, joining previous requests to Ecuador and Iceland, WikiLeaks said.
Bolivian President Evo Morales told Russian state-run RT television today that his country is ready to consider Snowden’s request.
Snowden has a good chance of getting refugee status in Russia, Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Moscow-based Civil Assistance rights group, said on Gazeta.ru. Most countries require the applicant to be physically on its territory to gain political asylum, so Snowden’s applications to other nations are unlikely to be approved, she was cited as saying.
The Snowden case has rattled international relations, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week warning China and Russia of “consequences” of their actions in spurning U.S. extradition requests. U.S. officials later shifted to a more conciliatory approach, and President Barack Obama said that “some useful conversations” have been held between the U.S. and Russia to resolve the issue.
Venezuela, whose President Nicolas Maduro said on June 26 that his country would “almost surely” give asylum to Snowden if he asked for it, may be the fugitive’s last hope for a destination other than Russia, according to Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a Moscow-based foreign affairs magazine.
Maduro and heads of other gas-exporting nations including Iran and Algeria are attending a meeting in Moscow this week. A spokesman at Venezuela’s Information Ministry said last night that he had no information on whether Snowden had requested asylum from the South American country.
Putin said that he didn’t know if any foreign delegations were planning to take Snowden away.
Russia was “completely surprised” by Snowden’s arrival from Hong Kong, Putin told reporters in Finland on June 25. Russian authorities were probably informed by the Chinese government of Snowden’s route although they didn’t plan his escape, according to Lukyanov.
“If Snowden has nowhere to go, maybe Russia will have to take him in,” Lukyanov said by phone. “It won’t do so exactly enthusiastically, but it can’t hand him over to the U.S. for reasons of national prestige.”
Russia should protect Snowden and offer him asylum if he wants it, said Mikhail Fedotov, the head of Putin’s human rights council.
“His actions were in the public interest and so society must defend him,” Fedotov said by phone. “We must protect this person if he ends up on Russian territory and asks for political asylum.”
Helping Snowden is a “matter of principle” for Russia because handing over a political refugee is “morally unacceptable,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said on his Twitter account June 29.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said June 30 that while Snowden’s case wasn’t a matter for the Kremlin, the Russian leadership would take into account the views of human rights organizations and society.
Obama said yesterday that his staff will review the Der Spiegel article saying the U.S. spied on European diplomats, declining to say if it was true and explaining that “every intelligence service” in the world uses its resources “to try to understand the world better.”
“I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders,” Obama said at a news conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. “That’s how intelligence services operate.”
Among U.S. allies seeking an explanation was Germany. Steffen Siebert, chief spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, said yesterday that “we aren’t in the Cold War anymore” and that spying on diplomatic missions would “be absolutely unacceptable for us.”
French President Francois Hollande said that before proceeding with talks on a proposed U.S.-European trade deal, he wanted assurances that the U.S. will halt the spying.
“What are the consequences to draw?” Hollande said during a visit to Brittany in northwestern France. “That it stop as quickly as possible, that is immediately. We can have negotiations and transactions only once we have these guarantees.”
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in an e-mailed statement that “if the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-U.S. relations.”
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