Snowden seeks political asylum in Russia
Updated: 2013-07-13 01:40
MOSCOW - Former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden plans to apply for political asylum in Russia, a Russian parliamentarian said Friday after meeting the stranded whistleblower.
Several other participants in the closed-door talks in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport confirmed that Snowden said he was seeking political asylum in Russia and could not fly to Latin America.
Former intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden (C) and Sarah Harrison (L) of WikiLeaks speak to human rights representatives in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport July 12, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]
Snowden has accepted the Kremlin's condition that he must stop damaging US interests if he wants to stay in Russia, lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov told reporters.
"He said he was informed of this condition and that he can easily accept it. He does not intend to damage the US interests given that he is a patriot of his country," Nikonov said.
According to lawyers taking part in the meeting, Snowden's request should be filed with the Federal Migration Service before being referred to the Kremlin Citizenship Commission. The president will sign the decree if decision made by the Kremlin is positive.
Speaker of the Federation Council, or upper house of the Russian Parliament Valentina Matviyenko said Russia should grant political asylum to Snowden, a spokesperson told reporters following the US whistleblower's evening meeting with activists and lawyers which attracted hundreds of reporters at the airport.
The airport's press service said 13 people attended the meeting, which started at about 5 p.m. local time (1300 GMT). Snowden didn' t allow photo or video coverage of the talks due to safety concerns.
A meeting participant told reporters that Snowden needs political asylum in Russia to gain freedom of movement and that he would remain at the airport for some time and does not intend to go to Latin America.
"He is satisfied with his being in the airport, because everything is going well there. The only thing he seeks is freedom of movement," the activist told Interfax news agency.
Earlier reports quoting other sources said Snowden intended to seek temporary asylum in Russia before eventually moving to Latin America.
The Kremlin had no confirmation of Snowden's appeal for political asylum in Russia, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
The request would be processed if Snowden officially requested asylum, Peskov said, adding there was no change to the condition for granting asylum of stopping activities causing damage to Russia's relations with the United States.
One of Russia's prominent lawyers, Anatoly Kucherena, has offered legal support to Snowden in obtaining political asylum in Russia.
The former intelligence contractor sought assistance from rights activists to bring his asylum request to President Vladimir Putin.
Top Russian lawyer Genry Reznik, who was invited to the meeting, estimated Snowden's chance of getting the asylum was huge. "We don 't have any grounds for refuting his statement on his motivation," he told reporters.
Snowden, who arrived at the airport on June 23, was charged by the US government with three felonies, including two under the Espionage Act. Yet according to Nikonov, Snowden believes he is being persecuted for "political motives."
Snowden now could neither cross the Russian border, nor buy another air ticket out, since he does not have a Russian visa and his US passport has been canceled. Friday's meeting was his first public appearance in Moscow in the past three weeks.
Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said Snowden's meeting in the airport transit zone did not violate international or Russian laws.
"People are allowed to enter this area, and he is allowed to stay there," he told reporters.
On Tuesday, Venezuelan authorities said Caracas would contact the Russian government on security measures and provide humanitarian asylum to Snowden in accordance with international law, regardless of an extradition demand from the United States.