MOSCOW (AFP) – President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sought to ease tensions with the United States over the stay of U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden in Russia, as a lawyer said the fugitive may request Russian citizenship.
Putin said Moscow’s relations with Washington outweighed the “squabbles” over Snowden, who applied for asylum on Tuesday after spending more than three weeks stranded in the transit zone of a Moscow airport.
But Putin also defended Moscow’s right to an “independent” foreign policy after the United States renewed calls for the extradition of Snowden, who is seeking to evade espionage charges for leaking details of a vast U.S. surveillance program.
“Relations between states are much more important than squabbles surrounding the work of security services,” Putin said after overseeing military exercises in the far-flung eastern Siberian region of Chita.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, has been marooned at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since June 23 after revealing that Washington has been seizing huge amounts of Internet and telephone data around the world.
He officially applied for asylum Tuesday, and “does not rule out the possibility of asking for Russian citizenship,” said Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer and pro-Kremlin public figure who helped Snowden file his request for temporary refuge.
Kucherena said that the request takes up to three months to process, but the migration service issues a notice within a week that the application has been accepted for examination, a document that could be used to exit the airport transit zone.
“He told me: ‘I am not going to go anywhere’,” Kucherena said after meeting Snowden this week.
Kucherena added he would be happy to show Snowden the sights of Moscow, including Red Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Tretyakov Gallery.
The Kremlin had said that Snowden’s asylum request is “not a presidential issue” but Putin on Wednesday implied that Moscow would not be pressured by Washington.
“Russia has an independent foreign policy and we will follow it,” Putin said in televised remarks.