The US authorities have in effect trapped fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has said. But Mr Putin said Mr Snowden would leave if he was able to. The former intelligence analyst has been offered asylum in a number of Latin American states, but has no documents with which to leave the transit zone at Moscow airport.
The US has charged Mr Snowden with leaking classified information.
Mr Putin has refused to hand over the fugitive to the US authorities, but says he can only stay in Russia if he stops leaking secrets about US surveillance schemes.
He said there were signs that Mr Snowden was “changing his position”.
However, he added that Mr Snowden did not want to stay in Russia but wanted to take up residence in “another country”.
Mr Snowden has been stuck in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport – reportedly staying at the airport’s Capsule Hotel – since arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June.
The American has sent requests for political asylum to at least 21 countries, most of which have turned down his request. However, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have indicated they could take him in.
But he is unable to leave the transit zone without asylum documents, a valid passport or a Russian visa – he reportedly has none of these.
And some European countries are likely to close their airspace to any plane suspected of carrying the fugitive.
Mr Snowden’s leaking of thousands of classified US intelligence documents has led to revelations that the National Security Agency is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data.
The documents have also indicated that both the UK and French intelligence agencies allegedly run similarly vast data collection operations, and the US has been eavesdropping on official EU communications.