MOSCOW -- Russia's President Vladimir Putin said yesterday 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 United States and Russia about Snowden's expulsion, though Putin repeated that Russia will not send Snowden back to the United States.
Meanwhile, Snowden, in his first public message since arriving at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport eight days ago, issued a statement accusing Obama of deploying "the old, bad tools of political aggression" and "using citizenship as a weapon" in order to silence him, according to The Washington Post. It describes the Obama administration as "afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised -- and it should be."
Putin's stance could reflect a reluctance to shelter Snowden, which would further strain 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 his 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 airport's transit zone since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23. The United States has annulled his passport, and Ecuador, where he has hoped to get asylum, has been coy about whether it would take him.
The Interfax news agency quoted Kim Shevchenko, the duty officer at the Russian Foreign Ministry's consular office in the airport, as saying that Snowden's representative, Sarah Harrison, handed over his request for asylum late Sunday.
Putin didn't mention his move to seek asylum in Russia, and his spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to say what the response could be.
Putin insisted that Snowden isn't a Russian agent and that Russian security agencies haven't contacted him.
"He's not our agent and hasn't cooperated with us," Putin said at a news conference. "I'm saying with all responsibility that he's not cooperating with us even now, and we aren't working with him."
Snowden doesn't want to stop his efforts to reveal information about the U.S. surveillance program likely because he considers himself a rights activist and a "new dissident," Putin said.
The newspaper Izvestia, a Kremlin mouthpiece, speculated yesterday that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is attending a summit of gas exporting nations in Moscow, would take Snowden with him when he leaves. The newspaper, citing a Kremlin source, said Putin would discuss Snowden with Maduro during their one-on-one meeting today, but Putin said he didn't know if any of the summit participants would help Snowden.