MOSCOW – Ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden had asked Russia for help before he flew to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a wide-ranging interview with First Channel, a Russian federal television network, and the Associated Press.
Snowden, who leaked classified national security documents to several media outlets, met with Russian diplomats in Hong Kong before he flew to Russia, Putin said in the televised interview recorded Tuesday.
“I was informed that there was such an agent of special services. I asked them: ‘What does he want?’ ” Putin said. “He is fighting for human rights, for free spreading of information. I said: ‘So what? If he wants a stay (in Russia) he is welcome and can stay but in this case he must stop all activities which could destroy Russian-U.S. relations.’ ”
Putin said that Snowden then replied that he wanted to continue his struggle.
“ ‘No, we won’t struggle together with him,’ I said. ‘Let him struggle by himself,’ ” Putin said. “And he went away, he simply went away, that is all. Then he began his flight to Latin America.”
Putin said that he understood Snowden then “simply went away” on a flight bound for a Central American or South American country. Putin said he only learned that Snowden was on board a Moscow-bound plane two hours before it landed.
He admitted that the Obama administration could have a valid argument for the extradition of Snowden but said Russia has not granted the U.S. request because the two countries do not have an agreement to do so.
“The problem is not that we are defending Snowden. We are not protecting him at all,” Putin said. “The problem is that we don’t have an agreement with the United States on the mutual handing over of criminals.”
Russia has proposed such an agreement on numerous occasions, Putin said, and has been rejected by the U.S. each time.