Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said Monday that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden will have to stop leaking U.S. secrets if he wants to get asylum in Russia, but he believes that Snowden has no intention of doing so.
Putin’s statement came hours after Snowden asked for political asylum, according to the Interfax news agency, citing a consular official at the Moscow airport where the leaker has been caught in legal limbo for more than a week.
President Barack Obama said there have been high-level discussions between the U.S. and Russia about Snowden’s expulsion, though Putin repeated that Russia will not send Snowden back to the United States.
Putin’s stance could reflect a reluctance to shelter Snowden, which would hurt already strained U.S.-Russian ties. At the same time, the Russian leader seemed to keep the door open to allowing him to stay, a move that would follow years of anti-American rhetoric popular with Putin’s core support base of industrial workers and state employees.
“If he wants to go somewhere and there are those who would take him, he is welcome to do so,” Putin said at a news conference. “If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his activities aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners, no matter how strange it may sound coming from my lips.”
Snowden has been stuck in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23. The U.S. has annulled his passport, and Ecuador, where he has hoped to get asylum, has been coy about whether it would take him.
Putin’s comments come as Obama’s administration is facing a breakdown in confidence from key allies over secret programs that reportedly installed covert listening devices in EU offices.