Fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden has applied for political asylum in Russia, but President Vladimir Putin says he can stay only if he stops "damaging our American partners." And only hours later, Snowden released a statement railing against the U.S. government.
A consul at the Moscow airport where Snowden is reportedly holed up told Russia's official news agency, ITAR-TASS, that Snowden made the asylum application late Sunday. It was submitted by Sarah Harrison, a staffer with the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Hours later, Putin told reporters that Russian will not hand over Snowden to U.S. authorities, but said there would be strings attached if he wants to remain in Moscow.
"If he likes to stay here there is one condition: he should cease his work aimed at damaging our American partners. No matter how strange it will sound from me," Putin told reporters, adding that Snowden is not working for Russian intelligence.
He said he doubted Snowden would curtail his activities and suggested that the former National Security Agency contractor should figure out which country he wants to wind up in and "move there."
Snowden left the U.S. for Hong Kong before he leaked top-secret details of U.S. surveillance programs and was charged with espionage. With the help of WikiLeaks he traveled to Moscow eight days ago.
The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, but President Barack Obama noted that Snowden traveled to Moscow without legal papers and referred to "high-level" discussions between the two countries about the case.
"We are hopeful that the Russian government makes decisions based on the normal procedures regarding international travel and the normal interactions that law enforcement have," Obama said.
It was thought that Snowden would eventually head for Ecuador, but the president of the South American country said this week that no asylum request was sent and suggested Russia would make the call on where Snowden could leave and where he would go.
And in a statement released late Monday through WikiLeaks, Snowden claimed the White House is pressuring other countries to deny him asylum.
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