National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is no longer seeking asylum in Russia, officials there said on Tuesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted that the former government contractor stop disclosing U.S. secrets.
“He has abandoned this idea and his request for permission to stay in Russia,” Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, before adding that Russian officials still had no intention of extraditing Snowden back to the United States.
Snowden remains holed up in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Russia had been among the more than 20 countries where Snowden was seeking refuge since disclosing secrets about U.S. phone and Internet surveillance programs.
According to WikiLeaks, the group known for disclosing government secrets, Snowden has requested asylum in Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela.
However, many of those countries say that Snowden can’t apply for asylum from abroad, meaning the ex-CIA official — whose passport has been canceled — could remain marooned in the Russian airport for the foreseeable future.
But Venezuela has emerged as the possible frontrunner to house Snowden.
“He did not kill anyone and did not plant a bomb,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told reporters, ahead of a meeting with Putin on Tuesday. “What he did was tell a great truth in an effort to prevent wars. He deserves protection under international and humanitarian law.”
However, Maduro would neither confirm that Venezuela had received an asylum request from Snowden nor say whether the country was open to letting him live there.
When announcing Snowden’s dropped bid for asylum, Peskov said Russia could not return him to the United States because America “applies the death penalty.” However, the three espionage charges against Snowden each carries just a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Snowden lashed out at President Obama on Monday, accusing the White House of employing “political aggression” to ensure his capture.
“The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon,” Snowden said, breaking days of silence. “Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.”
And the international fugitive also vowed to release even more U.S. secrets, a goal that appeared to influence his decision to no longer seek asylum in Russia.
The White House met Snowden’s latest revelation, that the NSA bugged European Union offices and tapped into their computer networks, with a collective shrug on Monday.
“I guarantee you that in European capitals there are people who are interested, if not then what I had for breakfast, then at least what my talking points might be, should I end up meeting with their leaders,” Obama said during the final leg of his weeklong trip across Africa.
And Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday, said he “certainly raised, from our point of view, how [Snowden] fits within the context of our relationship.”