Russian President Vladimir Putin said Edward Snowden could stay in Russia… (Yuri Kochetkov, European…)
MOSCOW — Edward Snowden plaintively appealed Monday from his diplomatic limbo in Moscow for relief from what he described as President Obama's use of "deception" and the "bad tools of political aggression" in pressuring other countries to deny him asylum.
In a statement posted on WikiLeaks' website, the fugitive former National Security Agency analyst accused Obama of seeking to make him stateless.
Snowden's first communication in more than a week exuded the strain of being trapped in a diplomatic no man's land and seeing earlier offers of refuge being rescinded.
Russian news media reported Monday that Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia and 14 other countries. But Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear that any grant of refuge would be contingent on Snowden ceasing to leak sensitive classified information "aimed at damaging our American partners."
The 30-year-old Snowden had his U.S. passport revoked midway through what has been a monthlong, globe-trotting flight after revealing a massive domestic and international surveillance program by U.S. intelligence.
Snowden has been holed up in a transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for more than a week, without documents that allow him to proceed through passport control, purchase plane tickets on outbound flights or even change currency or access foreign bank accounts.
He accused the U.S. government of threatening his freedom and safety "for revealing the truth."
"This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extra-legal penalty of exile," Snowden wrote. "These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me."
Snowden remains a U.S. citizen despite having his passport invalidated, and administration officials have said his return to the United States would be facilitated if he decided to face the espionage charges against him.
"The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon," Snowden lamented. "Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person."
He was issued special travel documents by Ecuadorean diplomats in Moscow last week but officials in Quito, Ecuador's capital, canceled them, saying they were improperly provided.
Ecuadorean officials initially hinted that they would give Snowden refuge. But a lucrative trade pact with Washington expired Sunday and fears that it won't be renewed could be behind Quito's apparently revised attitude toward Snowden. Some officials in Quito have renounced the trade pact, saying it would be used by the U.S. as "blackmail." But the special status granted Ecuadorean goods is worth $400 million a year, and as many as 40,000 jobs could be lost without a new deal.
As reverberations from Snowden's disclosures of NSA surveillance continued to echo internationally, Putin offered head-spinning comments about the American fugitive.
"If he wants to go somewhere and somebody will host him — no problem," Putin said at a news conference. "If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners."
Putin acknowledged the oddity of insisting on protection of U.S. secrets, saying he was sincere about muzzling Snowden "no matter how strange it may sound on my lips." Putin added, though, that Snowden appears to have no intention of stopping his leaks, "so he must choose for himself a country to stay in and move there."
There has been widespread speculation that any secret data Snowden is carrying has already been compromised by Chinese and Russian intelligence during his stays in Hong Kong and Moscow.
Snowden met at the airport earlier Monday with Russian consular officials and handed them an appeal to 15 countries for political asylum, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official didn't name the countries, but Kim Shevchenko, a Russian consular official, told the Interfax news agency that Russia was among them.
Igor Korotchenko, editor in chief of the monthly National Defense journal, said Putin was, in effect, offering a peace deal to the United States.
"Putin publicly pledged that if Snowden stays in Russia, the Kremlin will do its best to prevent any public exposures in the Russian mass media of the CIA's and NSA's secret activities," Korotchenko said. "Washington should see this as a fair deal, a much better bargain than if Snowden goes on to Venezuela and continues to expose U.S. special services' operations."
Russia has been hosting a meeting of the world's major gas-exporting countries. Among those attending was Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. There has been speculation that Snowden might fly to Caracas with Maduro to evade being arrested in transit.
Loiko reported from Moscow and Williams from Los Angeles.