Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of trapping US leaker Edward Snowden in Russia, saying he would leave Russia as soon as he can.
“As soon as there’s the chance to move somewhere he will certainly do this,” Putin said in his first public remarks since Snowden summoned several rights activists and public figures for a dramatic meeting at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport transit zone on Friday.
Putin also accused Washington of preventing the fugitive from leaving Russia after he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23.
“He arrived on our territory uninvited, he did not fly to us, he was flying transit to other countries,” Putin said in televised remarks. “But as soon as he was in the air, it became known, and our American partners essentially blocked off his further flight.”
“They themselves scared off all the other countries, no one wants to take him, and therefore they essentially themselves trapped him on our territory,” the president said.
“A nice gift to us for Christmas,” Putin was quoted as adding by Russian news agencies.
Asked what will happen to Snowden in the future, Putin said: “How would I know? That’s his life, his fate.”
But he also noted a change in position by Snowden who said on Friday he wanted to apply for asylum in Russia and receive documents before he could travel on to Latin America.
Putin conspicuously refrained from indicating if or when he might grant asylum to the world’s most famous fugitive.
Putin said earlier this month that Snowden could claim asylum in Russia only if he stopped his leaks.
The condition initially prompted the fugitive to withdraw his application, before the rights activists who met Snowden on Friday said he had promised not to harm US interests in the future.
“The conditions of receiving political asylum are known to him. Judging by his latest statement, he is somewhat changing his position, but the situation has not been finally clarified so far,” Putin said.
Russia’s Federal Migration Service said earlier Monday that it had not received an application from Snowden so far.
Putin, who 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, reiterated Russia’s refusal to damage ties with Washington for Snowden’s sake.
“We have certain ties with the United States. We do not want you through your activity to damage our ties with the States. He said ‘no.’ You are laughing but I am serious,” Putin told a group of students.
Putin said Snowden had vowed to continue his activism.
“We said: ‘That will be without us, then. We have other battles to fight’,” he said with a smile.
Since Washington revoked Snowden’s passport, he has been marooned in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremeteyevo airport for the past three weeks.