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 for 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. 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.

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,” he said, adding, “We cannot pass a judgement on whether Snowden has or has not committed a crime in the U.S.”