National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden told human-rights groups during a hastily arranged meeting at a Moscow airport Friday that he would temporarily seek asylum in Russia, with the goal of eventually landing in a Latin American country favorable to his cause.
Human Rights Watch’s Tanya Lokshina, one of the meeting’s participants, told the New York Times that Snowden said he would like to leave Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where he has been holed up since June 23.
According to meeting participants, Snowden is aiming to leave the airport, stay in Russia and then secure a flight to one of the four Latin American countries that have offered him refuge. Coming out of hiding for the first time in weeks, Snowden said he had been offered asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would grant Snowden asylum only if he first stops leaking U.S. secrets.
Snowden apparently believes his actions don’t undermine Putin’s ultimatum.
“No actions I take or plan are meant to harm the U.S. … I want the U.S. to succeed,” he said, according to the Times.
Russian Parliament member Vyacheslav Nikonov told reporters after the meeting that Snowden would be willing to stop spilling U.S. secrets in exchange for a deal with Putin.
Snowden still has no clear plan for traveling to Latin America, a goal that could force him to avoid U.S. airspace or that of other American allies who could force any plane carrying the international fugitive to land.
According to reports, he asked the human-rights groups at the meeting to petition foreign leaders to ensure his safe passage to Latin America. Snowden acknowledged that he could not stay in the Russian airport indefinitely.
The former government contractor fled to Hong Kong and then Moscow after disclosing widespread details about U.S. phone and Internet surveillance programs. With little success, Obama administration officials petitioned Chinese and Russian leaders to help extradite the ex-CIA employee.
In organizing the meeting, Snowden once again ripped the United States for their efforts to bring him back to American soil.
“Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the U.S. government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said in the invitation to the meeting. “The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent: never before in history have states conspired to force to the ground a sovereign president’s plane to effect a search for a political refugee. This dangerous escalation represents a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution.”
A Putin spokesman said after the meeting that the Russian government had not received a formal request from Snowden.