President denies whistleblower had passed any secrets to Russia
U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden first sounded out Russian diplomats for possible asylum when he was still in Hong Kong, but dropped the idea after he was told “not to harm Russian-American relations”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time confirmed that Mr. Snowden had contacted the diplomats before flying to Moscow on June 23.
“Mr. Snowden first met with our diplomatic officials in Hong Kong. They reported to me that there was this secret service man. I asked them: ‘What does he want?’ [They said,] ‘He fights human rights, freedom of information, [and] against violation of U.S. and international legislation’. [I said]: ‘So what? If he wants to stay in our country he is welcome, but in such case he must stop all activity that could undermine Russian-American relations…’ They conveyed it to him. [He said] ‘No, I’m fighter for a human rights, I call upon you to fight together with me.’ [I said] ‘No, we’re not going to fight along him, let him go alone.’ And he left, just left, and that was it.” He said this in an interview to Russian state television and the Association Press that was aired on Wednesday. Earlier he suggested that the ex-CIA analyst had enquired about Russian asylum after he got stuck at a Moscow airport with his U.S. passport cancelled.
Mr. Putin, who had made a career in the Soviet KGB secret service, accused the U.S. intelligence agencies of incompetence, saying they had bungled efforts to capture Mr. Snowden.
“Instead of letting [Snowden] fly to a country with a loose security regime or intercepting him on the way there, as they tried to do by force-landing the presidential plane of [Evo Morales]… they intimidated everybody leaving him stranded with us.”
The Russian leader said he had no option but allow Mr. Snowden to stay, because the U.S. had refused to sign an extradition treaty with Russia.
“Our American colleagues would not hand over to us our criminals even though they know that those criminals, not just revealed some secrets, but have their arms in blood up to their elbows, that they killed and abducted people,” Mr. Putin he said, adding, “We cannot pass a judgement on whether Snowden has or has not committed a crime in the U.S.”…. But in the absence of such a treaty we as a sovereign nation cannot do otherwise but let him live here.”
Mr. Putin again denied that Mr. Snowden had passed any secrets to Russia or that Russian security services were trying to “pump information from him”.
Mr. Snowden has been living in a secret location in Russia after winning temporary asylum five weeks ago. His father, Lon Snowden, is planning to visit him, but contrary to earlier reports, he has not yet received a Russian visa.
“When Lon’s lawyers asked for an explanation at one of the Russian consular offices [in the U.S], the response was that the Russian Foreign Ministry needs to issue a sanction, which was not done yet, and only then a visa can be issued,” a source close to Mr. Lon Snowden told the Itar-Tass news agency on Wednesday.
In the meantime, Mr. Snowden is spending his time travelling across Russia, Mr Snowden’s Russia lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said in an interview to the MK newspaper.
He is learning about local customs and traditions through books that were passed on to him and is already able to say some Russian words, Mr. Kucherena said.