Snowden Retracts Russia Asylum Bid as Refuge Options Narrow

Edward Snowden file photo

(Bloomberg – – Henry Meyer & Olga Tanas – July 2, 2013) Edward Snowden has withdrawn his Russian asylum request because of the demand that he stop harming U.S. interests by leaking secret documents as countries from Latin America to Europe brushed off his bid for refuge.

“Theoretically, Snowden could stay in the Russian Federation, but with one condition — that he give up his intention to carry out anti-American actions,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters today. “As far as we know, he refuses to do so.”

Snowden, who remains ensnared in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after arriving June 23 from Hong Kong, won’t be handed over to the U.S. to face espionage charges because of human-rights concerns, according to Peskov. Photograph by The Guardian via Getty Images

Snowden, who remains stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after arriving June 23 from Hong Kong, won’t be handed over to the U.S. to face espionage charges because of human-rights concerns, according to Peskov. Putin said yesterday that Snowden must quit hurting U.S. interests if he wants to remain in Russia, after the American sought asylum.

Snowden, 30, also applied for sanctuary in 20 other countries, according to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. Poland rejected his asylum bid because it didn’t meet the requirements for political refuge and India said it saw “no reason” to shelter him. Ireland and Austria said asylum applications are only considered when made by people inside their territory. Snowden, whose U.S. passport was revoked, can’t leave the Moscow airport transit zone without a new travel document.

German Request

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin today that Snowden has applied for political asylum and his application will be handled “strictly according to the law.” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, rejected giving Snowden asylum at a meeting of his Christian Democratic Union party yesterday in Ueberlingen, southern Germany, according to a report in the Schwaebische Zeitung.

“Snowden isn’t persecuted for political reasons,” Schaeuble was quoted as saying by the newspaper. “I respect the laws of the U.S. Asylum can’t be used to evade prosecution.”

Schaeuble is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU. Westerwelle belongs to the Free Democrats who serve as junior partner in the German leader’s coalition.

Ecuador President Rafael Correa told the Guardian in an interview published today that his country isn’t considering Snowden’s request and said it was a “mistake” to have granted the fugitive a safe-conduct pass that allowed him to depart Hong Kong for Moscow.

Snowden’s Disclosures

The former worker for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. has said he was the source of leaks on top-secret U.S. National Security Agency programs that collect phone and Internet data.

The Snowden case has shaken international relations, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week warning China and Russia of “consequences” of their actions in spurning U.S. extradition requests. U.S. officials later shifted to a more conciliatory approach, and President Barack Obama said that “some useful conversations” have been held between the U.S. and Russia to resolve the issue.

European countries including France and Germany protested to the U.S. yesterday on the latest revelation stemming from Snowden’s releases after a report in the German magazine Der Spiegel that the NSA eavesdropped and infiltrated computer networks of the European Union. The report cited classified documents in Snowden’s possession.

‘Independent Executive’

“The question is not which country will grant Mr. Snowden asylum,” WikiLeaks said today on its Twitter Inc. account. “The question is which countries still have an independent executive.”

The anti-secrecy group pointed to a report in The Associated Press that cited three unidentified American officials as saying the Obama administration is trying to convince Russia to expel Snowden to the U.S. or to a third country, possibly in eastern Europe, that would then hand him over to U.S. authorities. The report is evidence that “the U.S. is plotting to render Snowden via eastern Europe to the U.S.,” WikiLeaks said.

Snowden’s application was delivered on the evening of June 30 to a visa office at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo by WikiLeaks’ legal adviser Sarah Harrison, a consular official who received the document, Kim Shevchenko, said by phone.

‘Russia’s Position’

“Snowden did indeed ask to stay in Russia but after he found out yesterday about Russia’s position expressed by the president regarding the conditions for him theoretically to do so, he withdrew his request,” Peskov said on a conference call.

Venezuela, whose President Nicolas Maduro said on June 26 that his country would “almost surely” give asylum to Snowden if he asked for it, may be the fugitive’s last hope for a destination other than Russia, according to Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a Moscow-based foreign affairs magazine.

The Venezuelan leader, who was holding talks today with Putin after a gas exporters’ summit yesterday, indicated that he wouldn’t take Snowden with him from Moscow, state news service RIA reported. Venezuela hasn’t received an asylum application, Maduro said, adding that the American deserves protection under international and humanitarian law.

Bolivian President Evo Morales told Russian state-run RT television today that his country is ready to consider Snowden’s request.

U.S., Ecuador

The U.S. put pressure on Ecuador after Snowden initially asked for asylum there. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden asked President Rafael Correa to reject Snowden’s bid, the Ecuadorean leader said in a radio address June 29. Ecuadorean officials have said that Snowden would have to make his way to their country or one of its embassies to apply in person before they would weigh whether to take him in.

Nothing that happens to Snowden can stop the release of more information in his possession about classified U.S. programs, said Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, which publishes government documents on its website.

“Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can’t be pressured by any state to stop the publication process,” Assange, who’s been holed up at Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than a year after the country granted him asylum, said June 30 on ABC’s “This Week” program.

WikiLeaks published a statement yesterday that it attributed to Snowden in Moscow, which would be his first comments since leaving Hong Kong more than a week ago.

‘Stateless Person’

“The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon,” according to the statement attributed to Snowden. “Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person.”

Harrison filed requests for asylum on Snowden’s behalf with more than dozen countries on June 30, WikiLeaks said on its website. In addition to Russia, those nations include Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, joining previous requests to Ecuador and Iceland, WikiLeaks said.

Russia was “completely surprised” by Snowden’s arrival from Hong Kong, Putin told reporters in Finland on June 25. Russian authorities were probably informed by the Chinese government of Snowden’s route although they didn’t plan his escape, according to Lukyanov.

Sheltering Snowden

Russian civil rights activists including the head of Putin’s human-rights council, as well as a senior lawmaker, have urged Russia to offer Snowden asylum.

The Russian president, while unwilling to bow to U.S. demands to hand over Snowden, is uncomfortable about giving sanctuary to a person who leaked government intelligence, said Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

“Putin doesn’t want to concede to America but he also doesn’t approve of disclosing state secrets,” Lipman said by phone.

The 60-year-old leader, who has cracked down on the opposition and civil society after extending his 13-year-rule last year in the wake of mass protests, “would have looked very hypocritical himself as everyone knows how intolerant Russia is toward people it considers traitors,” she said.

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