News Column

Putin Blames U.S. for Snowden Limbo

July 15, 2013
Vladimir Putin

Washington is to blame for fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden being stuck at a Moscow airport, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday.

Speaking to students on Gogland, a Russian island in the Gulf of Finland, Putin argued that the United States had blocked all travel options for Snowden, who had planned only a transit stop in Moscow.

"They themselves intimidated all other countries," Putin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "Nobody wants to take him."

Putin said Snowden would leave Russia at the earliest opportunity and reiterated that Moscow would only grant him asylum if he refrained from leaking further sensitive US information.

"He knows the conditions," he said, explaining that Snowden should stop his "political activities."

Snowden, a former contractor for the US National Security Agency, has unveiled internet spying programmes and eavesdropping by Washington on European allies and countries like Russia and China.

The US has charged him with espionage and theft of government documents and wants him extradited.

Snowden said Friday that he would seek refuge in Russia, but the Russian Federal Migration Service said it had not received any application from him.

Putin said he himself does not know what Snowden had decided: "Judging from latest reports, he is kind of changing his mind, but the situation is inconclusive," he said.

Asked what would happen to Snowden, Putin replied, "How am I to know? It is his life, his fate."

Putin joked that Snowden was a "sort of Christmas present" for Russia.

Snowden arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport transit zone three weeks ago and has been unable to leave after the US revoked his passport. He is under guard, officials who requested anonymity said.

Anatoly Kucherena, a prominent Moscow lawyer who said after a meeting with Snowden Friday that the US fugitive had signed an asylum request and that he would handle his case, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview Monday.

In comments carried by Russian news agencies, he said the US should adopt a humane course towards Snowden and observe human rights.

Rights activists were left guessing as to why Snowden had still not filed a request after meeting with rights advocates Friday and announcing he would do so. "I fail to understand the reason for this meeting," Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said Monday.

The Council of Europe's Human Rights commissioner, Niels Muiznieks, said Monday that Snowden's revelations reflected a serious need to look at the legality of government surveillance.

"He sparked a debate that is very useful and necessary," Muiznieks said by telephone from Strasbourg.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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