Russia says no asylum request yet from fugitive Snowden

13.07.2013 16:39

Russia kept
former U.S. spy agency
contractor Edward Snowden
at arm's length on Saturday,
saying it had not been in
touch with the fugitive
American and had not yet
received a formal request
for political asylum.
Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
signalled Russia is weighing its options after
Snowden, who is stranded at a Moscow
airport, broke three weeks of silence and
asked for refuge in Russia until he can secure
safe passage to Latin America.
Washington urged Moscow to return Snowden
to the United States, where he is wanted on
espionage charges after revealing details of
secret surveillance programmes, and
President Barack Obama spoke by phone with
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Snowden's leaks about U.S. spy methods,
including eavesdropping on global email
traffic, have upset Washington's friends and
foes alike. Stuck at Sheremetyevo airport
with his passport revoked, he has become an
irritant in relations between the United
States and Russia.
"We are not in contact with Snowden,"
Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as
saying in Kyrgyzstan, where he attended a
foreign ministers' meeting.
He said he had learned of Snowden's
meeting with Russian human rights activists
and public figures at the airport on Friday
from the media, "just like everyone else."
Snowden, who had previously kept out of
sight since arriving in the airport's transit
zone on June 23, told the activists that he
would submit his asylum request the same
Lavrov said that under Russian law, asylum
seekers must first make an official appeal to
the Federal Migration Service. But its
director, Konstantin Romodanovsky, said on
Saturday the agency had not yet received
such a request from Snowden.
Snowden, who worked at a National Security
Agency facility, in Hawaii, revealed that the
NSA has access to vast amounts of data such
as emails and chat rooms from companies
including Facebook (FB.O) and Google
(GOOG.O), under a government programme
called Prism.
He fled to Hong Kong and then flew to
Moscow, where he and Russian officials say
he has remained in the airport transit zone.
He has no visa to enter Russia.
Snowden is useful as a propaganda tool for
Putin, who accuses the U.S. government of
preaching to the world about rights and
freedoms it does not uphold at home. But his
presence on Russia's doorstep is a double-
edged sword.
Putin has invited Obama for a bilateral
summit in Moscow in September, and asylum
for Snowden could jeopardise that, even
though both countries have signalled they
want to improve ties that have been strained
in Putin's third presidential term.
And while pro-Kremlin politicians have been
avidly casting Snowden, 30, as a rights
defender, former KGB officer Putin said last
month that the surveillance methods he
revealed were largely justified if applied
Putin has said twice that Snowden should
choose a final destination and go there, and
on July 2 he said Russia could only take
Snowden in if he stopped activities "aimed at
harming our American partners".
Putin's spokesman said on Friday that the
condition, which prompted Snowden to
withdraw an earlier asylum request, still
Snowden has asked some 20 countries for
asylum and received offers from Venezuela,
Nicaragua and Bolivia, but he said on Friday
that Western states had made it "impossible
for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy
the asylum granted there".
The United States has urged nations not to
give him passage, and a plane carrying
Bolivian President Evo Morales home from
Russia last week was denied access to the
airspace of several European countries on
suspicion Snowden might be on board.
(Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Mark