Snowden ‘yet to seek’ Russia asylum

Russia has not received an asylum bid from fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, Moscow officials say.

In his first appearance since fleeing to a Moscow airport from Hong Kong three weeks ago, Mr Snowden had said he would apply to Russia on Friday.

He wants to go to Latin America where he has been offered asylum.

The US has charged the former CIA contractor with leaking classified information and accused Russia of giving him a “propaganda platform”.

The director of the Russian migration service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, said on Saturday that no request had been made.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, told reporters at a foreign ministers’ meeting in Kyrgyzstan: “We are not in contact with Snowden.”

“To acquire political asylum, Russian laws presuppose a certain procedure, and the first step towards it is to apply to the Federal Migration Service,” Mr Lavrov said.

The remarks show Russia is keeping the fugitive at arm’s length, analysts say.

US President President Barack Obama called his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday to discuss the situation, although details of the call were not divulged.

‘Stop harming partners’

Mr Snowden has been stuck in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport – reportedly staying at the airport’s Capsule Hotel – since arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June.

The Kremlin’s position is that the fugitive can stay in Russia as long as he stops leaking secrets about US surveillance schemes.

“Mr Snowden could hypothetically stay in Russia if he first, completely stops the activities harming our American partners and US-Russian relations and, second, if he asks for this himself,” said President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Rejecting the conditions, Mr Snowden previously withdrew an asylum request to Russia.

The US says Moscow’s position is incompatible with Russia’s assurances that they do not want Mr Snowden to further damage US interests.

“Providing a propaganda platform for Mr Snowden runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of Russia’s neutrality,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney on Friday.

The American has sent requests for political asylum to at least 21 countries, most of which have turned down his request. However, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have indicated they could take him in.

But he is unable to leave the transit zone without asylum documents, a valid passport or a Russian visa – he reportedly has none of these documents.

And some European countries are likely to close their airspace to any plane suspected of carrying the fugitive.

‘Outside the law’

On Friday, Mr Snowden said in a statement he formally accepted all offers of support or asylum he had already received “and all others that may be offered in the future”.

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Art installation of an eye in Berlin

But he added that the US and some European countries had “demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law”.

The status of asylum as well as criticism of alleged US spying on Latin American governments were on the agenda as members of the South American trade bloc, Mercosur, gathered in Uruguay.

The plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales, returning to Bolivia from Moscow, was last week forced to land in Austria after France, Portugal, Italy and Spain barred it from their airspace – apparently because of suspicions that Mr Snowden was on board.

Mr Snowden’s leaking of thousands of classified US intelligence documents have led to revelations that the National Security Agency is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data.

They have also indicated that both the UK and French intelligence agencies allegedly run similarly vast data collection operations, and the US has been eavesdropping on official EU communications.

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