“If they had wanted to, they could have given him some kind of pass and put him on a plane,” Galeotti said, but as Ecuador’s doubts about accepting Snowden increased, Russia took full advantage.
Request for asylum
On Monday evening, Kim Shevchenko, the consular officer on duty in the transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, said Snowden had applied for asylum Sunday night.
The request was delivered by Sarah Harrison, a top WikiLeaks lieutenant who accompanied Snowden to Moscow from Hong Kong, and was sent on to the Foreign Ministry for consideration, Shevchenko said. Kremlin officials said they could offer no comment.
Although Putin spoke as if he knew nothing about the request, it appeared unlikely that he could have been unaware of Snowden’s application.
And as the story became more and more like a spy novel, the clues offered by Putin, a former KGB officer, tantalized. As he was wrapping up a forum of 11 gas-
producing countries, with the presidents of Iran and Venezuela in attendance, the Russian president said at a news conference that Snowden could stay if he refrained from what Putin called his human rights activity.
That might prove difficult for Snowden, Putin said, so he needs to choose a country willing to tolerate his work and move there. “When this will happen,” Putin said, “I do not know, unfortunately.”
Russia has no extradition treaty with the United States, and it refuses to extradite its own citizens, though, as Putin pointed out Monday, there have been exchanges of accused spies. “Russia never extradites anyone anywhere,” he said, “and is not going to extradite anyone.” He also repeated his assertion that Snowden was not turning over information in his possession to Russia operatives.
Galeotti said he thought Russia was reluctant to keep Snowden forever and may instead consider him a bargaining chip.
Russia badly wants the return of Viktor Bout, a convicted arms smuggler sentenced to 25 years in prison in New York last year. Galeotti suspects that Bout had ties to Russian intelligence. “Like the Soviets, the Russians are determined to get their people home,” he said, and they may see Snowden as a way to do that.
Since Snowden turned up here — remaining unseen — Russian officials have avoided gloating about how he has eluded American officials and damaged U.S. security. Neither have they gone out of their way to be helpful by expelling Snowden.
Putin has made needling the United States a favored pastime — he accuses it of meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs and propping up political opposition with U.S. support for democracy and human rights. At the same time, Putin has been eager to have Obama visit Russia for a summit, which the U.S. president has promised to do in conjunction with the Group of 20 meeting in St. Petersburg in September. Harboring Snowden could threaten the presidential meeting.
David Nakamura in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Juan Forero in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.