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MOSCOW — After nearly three weeks stuck in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden once again grabbed attention worldwide Friday when he asked for asylum in Russia.
Snowden — last in the headlines in Russia a week ago when Anna Chapman, the sexy former Russian spy, asked him to marry her — had more serious matters on his mind.
In a behind-closed-doors meeting with human rights activists and Russian lawmakers, Snowden, dressed in a gray shirt and looking thin but healthy, said he understood there was nowhere else for him to go at the moment.
In a short video apparently shot on a mobile telephone by one of those present at the meeting, Snowden appears relaxed and happy as he reads from a statement later posted online by Wikileaks.
Toward the end of the footage, which clocks in at just over two minutes, Snowden’s statement is loudly interrupted by an airport announcement over the PA system.
“I’ve heard that many times in the past couple of weeks,” a smiling Snowden says to laughter from those present.
The video appeared on Russian news website Life News.
In the Wikileaks statement, Snowden defends his actions over revealing that the U.S. government was collecting millions of phone records and requests support for securing his safety.
“This willingness by powerful states to act extra-legally represents a threat to all of us and must not be allowed to succeed,” the statement reads. “Accordingly, I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted. I will be submitting my request to Russia today and hope it will be accepted favorably.”
Russia Today, the country’s Kremlin-backed international English-language television network, focused on reporting comments attributed to Snowden from Russian officials present.
Other outlets gave more weight to news passed via Twitter from Tatyana Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, who was also present at the meeting in airport’s Terminal F, the old Soviet-era wing built to accommodate international guests for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
“He wants to seek political asylum, at least temporary shelter in Russia,” Sergey Nikitin, head of Amnesty International’s Moscow office, said. “But his further actions are unclear.”
Snowden apparently understands that none of his routes out of Russia are risk-free after attempts to reach South America were thwarted — first by the U.S. revoking his passport, which prevented him from buying a ticket for a direct flight from Moscow to Cuba and then, last week, by U.S. pressure on European countries to ground the aircraft of Bolivian president Evo Morales in Vienna after it left Moscow, with Snowden rumored to be aboard.
And he is willing to accept Russian president Vladimir Putin’s condition that asylum is offered on condition that Snowden stop damaging U.S. interests.
Snowden’s asylum intentions may be temporary, Lokshina suggested, saying he “can’t fly to Latin America yet.”
But with respect to further revelations about NSA snooping on e-mail, telephone and Internet communications worldwide, Snowden “says that his job is done.”
Russian MP Vyacheslav Nikonov added that Snowden was ready to ask Russia for political asylum and that he “does not intend to harm the U.S. in the future,” Russia Today reported.
“No actions I take or plan are meant to harm the U.S. … I want the U.S. to succeed,” Snowden said.
The news late Friday afternoon apparently took the Kremlin by surprise.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman said the Kremlin had yet to receive any formal asylum request from Snowden, but the conditions for his staying were the same as the president had already stated.
Once Snowden made a formal request, Russia would consider it, Peskov added.
Earlier, Snowden, who has petitioned more than 20 countries for asylum, had changed his mind about seeking to stay in Russia after Putin put the condition of refraining from damaging U.S. interests on any application.
Putin is on record as stating that Snowden would be safe in Russia.
“Russia has never extradited anyone and is not going to do so,” he said recently.
And as Russia Today reminded viewers, Peskov recently added: “Snowden, by sincere conviction or for some other reason, considers himself to be a human rights activist, a fighter for ideals of democracy and human freedom … For this reason, extraditing Snowden to a country like the U.S., where capital punishment is enforced, is impossible.”
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