Russia has been ambivalent at best about his presence here, as an unwelcome complication in already strained relations with the United States. But by late evening, Russian authorities seemed to be making the best of a difficult situation, as a line of officials sought out the media and voiced their support for asylum.
If asylum is granted, the Obama administration would be forced to decide how to react without ruining relations with Moscow entirely.
Snowden told his guests, they reported afterward, that he likes Sheremetyevo Airport well enough but that he can’t stay cooped up forever. Russian officials said it may take them two or three more weeks to decide.
The Interfax news agency quoted Russian migration service head Konstantin Romodanovsky as saying no asylum request had been received as of Saturday.
Snowden has been out of public sight since he arrived here from Hong Kong on June 23, a step ahead of American efforts to have him sent back to the United States for revealing classified information about data collection programs run by the National Security Agency.
But Thursday night he sent e-mail invitations to a group of defense lawyers, pro-Kremlin politicians and human rights advocates to meet him the next day at the airport. There he read a statement critical of the United States and told them of his hopes for Russian asylum.
And in a comment that seemed to raise more questions than answers, he repeated claims that as an NSA contractor, he “had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time.”
The White House said in a statement Friday that President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone about Snowden’s status and “a range of security and bilateral issues.”
Until now, Russia has been eager not to prolong Snowden’s stay, though it has been unwilling to return him to the United States. Moscow’s relations with Washington are complicated enough, politicians here have said, without a professed whistleblower and fugitive from prosecution standing between them.
“I do not want a human fate to hinge on the relations between two countries,” said Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s human rights commissioner and a participant in the meeting, “but at the same time it would be undesirable if relations between two countries hinged on one man’s will.”