Russia is willing to consider granting asylum to American whistleblower Edward Snowden if he applies, the Kremlin said.

“If we receive such a request, we will consider it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Kommersant daily.

The Kremlin offer came as Mr. Snowden checked out from a five-star hotel in Hong Kong and disappeared. He had fled to Hong Kong from Hawaii after leaking top secret documents about a U.S. global electronic surveillance programme.

Experts said Hong Kong was not a very safe place for Mr. Snowden to hide from American authorities as it has an extradition treaty with the U.S.

Russia has a consulate in Hong Kong. There is no extradition pact between Russia and the U.S. and the Kremlin may be all too happy to thumb its nose at America. After the fall of the Soviet Union the U.S. rejected several Russian requests to extradite businessmen accused of economic crime. Moscow was also infuriated by what it called the “kidnapping” and conviction in the U.S. of Russian nationals, Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, accused respectively of arms and cocaine smuggling.

A senior Russian parliamentarian said Russian asylum for Mr Snowden would send a signal that “Moscow takes under its wings victims of political persecution.”

“This will send the U.S. into hysterics,” Alexei Pushkov, head of the international committee of the State Duma, mused wishfully.

Russia, however, may not quite meet Mr. Snowden’s wish to seek asylum in “a country with shared values” and “strong internet and press freedoms.”