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Snowden seeks Russia asylum as activists meet him at airport

By Anton Doroshev, Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik
Bloomberg News

Fugitive U.S. ex-security contractor Edward Snowden asked to stay in Russia after summoning human rights activists to a Moscow airport where he’s been stranded for almost three weeks.

Snowden, 30, who exposed classified U.S. programs that collect telephone and Internet data, said the U.S. and its European allies are blocking him from reaching asylum in Latin America, according to a statement posted on the website of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

“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,” he told representatives of local and international rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Snowden, whose presence in Russia has heightened tensions with the U.S., has been in Sheremetyevo Airport’s transit area since June 23. He’s been seeking asylum around the world as U.S. authorities press for his return to face prosecution. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have indicated they’d take him.

His previous request for asylum in Russia was withdrawn 24 hours later after President Vladimir Putin insisted Snowden stop “anti-American” activities.

Propaganda platform

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that “providing a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of Russia’s neutrality” in the case.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was “disappointed” that Russian officials “facilitated this meeting” at the airport. “We still believe that Russia has the opportunity to do the right thing and facilitate his return to the United States,” she said.

It’s likely that Snowden will get refuge in Russia because he’s now ready to commit not to harm U.S. interests, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a lawmaker in the lower house of parliament from the ruling United Russia party and part of the group that met Snowden, told reporters.

Participants were escorted into a restricted zone by airport officials. Snowden seemed “very self-assured and didn’t seem at a loss,” said Genri Reznik, a lawyer who had represented Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin. Without evidence to show that he was acting for personal gain rather than political motivation, there’s no reason to deny him asylum, he said.

Temporary haven

Snowden is seeking temporary haven, Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Moscow, said on her Facebook page, alongside a photograph from the meeting of the fugitive, who hadn’t been seen in public since his arrival from Hong Kong on a flight operated by Russia’s state-run OAO Aeroflot.

“Edward Snowden has a serious asylum claim that should be considered fairly by Russia or any other country where he may apply,” Dinah PoKempner, Human Rights Watch’s general counsel, said in a statement. The New York-based group said it hasn’t taken any other action on Snowden’s behalf.

“Human Rights Watch doesn’t provide financial support, counseling or any other support to Snowden,” PoKempner said in an ­email. “We’re not a service-providing organization, like a legal organization might be. We are reporting on what he says. We are looking at the situation for human-rights issues and we are commenting on human-rights issues.”

It will take about three weeks for the Russian authorities to decide whether to grant refugee status to Snowden, Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer and a member of the Public Chamber, told Bloomberg News.