Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has applied for political asylum in Russia, a Russian immigration source close to the matter said on Monday.
Snowden is currently believed to hide in a closed area of the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after arriving there on June 23 from Hong Kong.
The refugee had to leave the U.S. as he had made public details of widespread surveillance by US security services of American citizens’ emails and telephone calls.
With his initial bid to seek asylum in Ecuador apparently going nowhere, Snowden has now sought refuge in Russia from charges in the US of treason and theft of government property, reports The Telegraph.
Kim Shevchenko, the head of Sheremetyevo’s Russian consular section, situated in Terminal F, confirmed to the local media that he had received an application for asylum from the former US contractor on Sunday evening.
According to Shevchenko, it had been delivered by hand by Sarah Harrison, the WikiLeaks employee, who according to the anti-secrecy organisation arrived from China with Snowden.
“I received those documents and informed senior representatives of the ministry of foreign affairs. A courier from the ministry came within an hour and I handed over the packet of documents,” confirmed Shevchenko.
At a press conference in Moscow, President Putin said of the refugee: “If he wants to go somewhere and someone will take him — please, go ahead. If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: that he stops his work aimed at inflicting harm on our American partners, strange as that may sound coming from my lips.”
Putin earlier insisted that Snowden was not a Russian agent but stressed that he would “never” be extradited to the US. “Russia never gives anybody up and doesn’t plan to in the future,” he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed the country had held “high level” discussions with Moscow over the whistleblower.
Snowden’s claim to be a fighter for civil freedoms would be seriously eroded if he stays in Russia, where state security services are regularly accused of spying on and intimidating innocent citizens at the behest of political masters.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the scandal and the revelations “unacceptable” and the Germany foreign ministry called in the US ambassador to demand assurances that survelliance would be immediately stopped.
“We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies,” Mr Hollande said. “We ask that this immediately stop. There can be no negotiations or transactions in all areas until we have obtained these guarantees, for France but also for all of the European Union, for all partners of the United States.”
Germany also backed Hollande’s threat to freeze trade talks launched last month at the G8 summit and scheduled to be continued next week, stating that “mutual trust” was a necessary basis of negotiations.