Russia says no asylum request yet from Snowden

Whistleblower says Western states had made it ‘impossible’ for to travel to Latin America

Former intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden (2nd L) speaks to human rights representatives in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport yesterday. Photograph: Handout via Reuters.

Former intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden (2nd L) speaks to human rights representatives in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport yesterday. Photograph: Handout via Reuters.

Sat, Jul 13, 2013, 14:18

Russia kept former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden at arm’s length today, 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 Mr 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 Mr 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.

Mr Snowden’s leaks about US 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 Mr Lavrov as saying in Kyrgyzstan, where he attended a foreign ministers’ meeting.

He said he had learned of Mr Snowden’s meeting with Russian human rights activists and public figures at the airport on Friday from the media, “just like everyone else.”

Mr Snowden, who had previously kept out of sight since arriving in the airport’s transit zone on June 23rd, told the activists that he would submit his asylum request the same day.

Mr 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 the agency had not yet received such a request from mr Snowden.

Mr 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 and Google, 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.

Mr Snowden is useful as a propaganda tool for Mr Putin, who accuses the US 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.

Mr Putin has invited Mr Obama for a bilateral summit in Moscow in September, and asylum for Mr Snowden could jeopardise that, even though both countries have signalled they want to improve ties that have been strained in Mr Putin’s third presidential term.

Mr Snowden has asked some 20 countries for asylum and received offers from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, but he said yesterday 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 Mr Snowden might be on board.

Reuters