MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of trapping US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden in Moscow, saying he would leave Russia as soon as possible.
“As soon as there’s the chance to move somewhere he will certainly do this,” Putin said in televised remarks.
“He arrived on our territory uninvited, he did not fly to us, he was flying in transit to other countries,” Putin said.
“But as soon as he was in the air, it became known, and our American partners essentially blocked off his further flight.”
These were Putin’s first public remarks since Snowden met with several rights activists and lawyers Friday at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he is stranded.
Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23 and the US revoked his passport the same day.
Booked on a June 24 flight from Moscow to Havana, Cuba, he never boarded the plane. Snowden has been stranded in the airport’s transit zone since then.
Putin said of the United States: “They themselves scared off all the other countries, no one wants to take him, and therefore they essentially themselves trapped him on our territory.
“A nice gift to us for Christmas,” he told Russian reporters travelling with him on a visit to the island of Gogland in the Gulf of Finland.
He did not know what would become of Snowden. “How would I know? That’s his life, his fate,” the president said.
But he did note a change in position by the former NSA contractor. Snowden announced on Friday that he did, after all, want to apply for asylum in Russia until he could travel on to Latin America, where several countries have offered him asylum.
He had withdrawn his initial application after Putin said earlier this month that Snowden could claim asylum in Russia only if he stopped his leaks.
When Snowden announced Friday he was renewing his application, he said he had promised not to harm US interests in the future.
“Judging by his latest statement, he is somewhat changing his position,” said Putin. “But the situation has not been finally clarified so far.”
He said nothing about whether or not Snowden’s application would be accepted.
Putin is set to host US President Barack Obama for a bilateral summit in Moscow followed by the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg in early September.
Putin said Russia had made its position clear to Snowden.
“We have certain ties with the United States. We do not want you through your activity to damage our ties with the States.”
Snowden had vowed to continue his activism, said Putin.
“We said: ‘That will be without us, then. We have other battles to fight,'” he said with a smile.
In a sign that Moscow may seriously consider an application from him, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, has said that Snowden could apply for either temporary asylum or political asylum.
Requests for political asylum are reviewed by the Kremlin and granted by the president.
Observers have noted that Snowden’s Friday meeting did not include some figures likely to upset Putin, such as Russia’s best-known rights campaigners or organisations that deal with refugees.
Among those who did attend was Vyacheslav Nikonov, a lawmaker from the ruling party United Russia, who would probably not have been known to Snowden before his arrival in Russia.
Washington has reacted sharply to the possibility that Moscow might offer Snowden a safe haven and accused it of providing him with a “propaganda platform”.
In Latin American meanwhile, Spain’s ambassador to Bolivia said Madrid had apologised for an incident earlier this month, when it closed its airspace to a plane carrying President Evo Morales.
Morales was flying back from Moscow at the time and was forced to stop overnight in Vienna after Spain, France, Italy and Portugal all acted following rumours that Snowden was on board.