Because the last thing Putin would want is Snowden to leak more U.S. national security secrets.
Edward Snowden has applied for asylum in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin said the NSA leaker is not welcome unless he ceased his work “aimed at harming our American partners.”
For the second time in a week, Putin said Russian intelligence agencies were not working with the 30-year-old American who fled his country and leaked details of secret U.S. government surveillance programs.
“If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips,” he told reporters after a gas exporters’ conference in Moscow.
But Putin said he suspected that Snowden would not stop leaking information, because “he feels himself to be a human rights activist”.
“So he must choose a country of destination and go there,” he said, speaking before the asylum request to Russia was reported. “Unfortunately, I don’t know when this will happen.”
A Russian consular official confirmed to the Interfax news agency that Snowden has in fact applied for asylum in Russia. Reuters is reporting that “Wikileaks activist Sarah Harrison, who is travelling with Snowden, handed his application to a Russian consular official in the transit area at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport late on Sunday.”
Snowden has reportedly also appealed to more than a dozen other countries for political asylum as well. It appears that Russia has no intention of handing Snowden over to the US, according to a LA Times report.
Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked U.S. security secrets, met Monday morning with Russian consular service officials and handed them an appeal to 15 countries for political asylum, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official didn’t name the countries, but said that Russia was among them.
The United States has a warrant for Snowden’s arrest and has asked that Russia return him, despite the fact that the two countries do not have an extradition treaty. Putin dismissed the notion, while noting that Russia does engage in spy swaps.
“Russia never hands anybody over anywhere and doesn’t intend to do so,” the Russian leader said. “At best, we exchanged our Foreign Intelligence Service agents for those who were detained and arrested and convicted in a Russian Federation court.”
Putin stressed that Snowden is not a Russian agent and that he is not cooperating with Russian special services. “I am telling you responsibly he is not cooperating with us today, either.”
Snowden has also sought asylum in Ecuador, but the country’s president has said it cannot consider the request unless the former NSA contractor reaches Ecuador or one of its embassies. That’s unlikely to happen without assistance from Russia, since Snowden’s US passport has been revoked. Vice President Joe Biden meanwhile has spoken with Ecuador’s president and asked him to reject Snowden’s asylum request.
While visiting a health clinic in Livingstone, Zambia, former president George W. Bush also spoke publicly about Snowden and the NSA ordeal.
Bush told CNN’s Robyn Curnow that he believes Snowden “has damaged the security of the country.” He also responded to questions about the NSA surveillance program.
“I think there needs to be a balance, and as the president explained, there is a proper balance,” Bush said.
Asked about an NSA program that tracks people’s Internet activity, Bush said, “I put that program in place to protect the country. One of the certainties was that civil liberties were guaranteed.”
Bush refrained from criticizing Obama, telling CNN, “I don’t think it does any good…It’s a hard job. He’s got plenty on his agenda. It’s difficult. A former president doesn’t need to make it any harder. Other presidents have taken different decisions; that’s mine.”