Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has not offered Russia any secret information, and Moscow's refusal to extradite him to the United States is due solely to the fact that the two countries do not have an extradition agreement, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
"The problem is not that we defended Snowden. We are not defending him in any way. The problem is that we and the U.S. do not have an agreement on mutual extradition of criminals. We have invited the United States on numerous occasions to conclude such an agreement but have been denied," Putin said in an interview with Channel One television and the Associated Press.
"We cannot judge whether Snowden committed some crime in the U.S. or not. We simply are not in a position to do this. But we, as a sovereign country having no such agreements with the United States, cannot do anything but provide him with the opportunity to stay here," Putin said.
"I'm going to tell you openly something I have never said yet - I hinted but never said it openly: Mr. Snowden appeared in Hong Kong for the first time and met with our diplomatic workers. I received a report that there was this special services employee. I asked them: what does he want? They say: He is defending human rights and the freedom of the circulation of information and fighting violations of laws in the U.S. itself and violations of international law," Putin told the journalists interviewing him.
"I say: if he wants to stay here, he is welcome, he can stay, but in this case he must stop all his activities that are detrimental to Russian-American relations," he said.
Then it was reported that Snowden "had automatically stayed in our airport and was stuck here," Putin said.
"And what were we supposed to do after that? Turn him in [to the United States]? Then conclude an agreement with us. You don't want to? As you like. Turn our thugs over to us. You don't want to? As you wish. So why are you demanding that we turn someone in unilaterally? What kind of snobbishness is this? It's necessary to take into account each other's interests, work and look for a professional solution," he said.
"Therefore, we are not defending Snowden but we are defending certain norms of mutual relations between states. I really expect that the United States and we reach some agreement in the future and can codify them in legally binding documents," he said.
Snowden did not offer any secret information to Russia, Putin said. "We haven't received anything from him, and we don't even have such a desire," Putin said. "We don't have any desire to involve him in some cooperation scheme or to pump some information out of him. He's never tried to give us anything, and we've never tried to coax anything out of him," he said.
Snowden has actually consigned himself "to quite a complicated life," Putin said. "But it is clear already that we won't turn him in, and that he can feel safe here," he said.
The United States may understand in time that, in dealing with Snowden, it is dealing not with a traitor and a spy, but a man possessing certain convictions, Putin said. "Perhaps some compromises might be found in this case as well. I don't know. This is his own fate, he has chosen it, and he has done this to himself," he said.
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