The arrival of former employee of the US National Security Agency (NSA) Edward Snowden in Russia was unexpected, but Moscow could not hand him over to Washington due to the lack of the necessary agreements, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Hollywood director Oliver Stone.
Stone conducted a dozen interviews with Putin between 2015 and February 2017 for his four-part documentary on topics ranging from Russian-US relations, Syria, Ukraine to domestic policy, gay rights and Snowden. The Putin Interviews premiered on Showtime TV channel in the United States on June 12 and will continue through June 15. The second series of the documentary was released on Tuesday.
The Oscar-winning director asked Putin if then US President Barack Obama called him when informed that Snowden was heading to Russia in June 2013 after leaking details of extensive Internet and phone surveillance by US intelligence to the media.
Putin said the first contacts with Snowden were established in China "when we were told that there is a person who wants to fight for human rights and against their violations," the Russian leader said. "To Mr. Snowden’s credit, he was not going to leak any information to us, he called for a joint struggle."
"And when it turned out that we were not ready for that… maybe I will disappoint many people and maybe also you… I said this is no business of ours. We have difficult relations with the United States and we don’t need any more problems. He simply left and disappeared," Putin said.
"And then indeed I was informed that Snowden was on a plane, which was due to land in Moscow and after that he was supposed to board another plane and fly on to South America," Putin explained. "But it turned out that the countries where he was flying to were not really accepting him. This is the first thing. Second, this information reached media, not from us but from many sources - and it became clear that he would not be allowed to fly anywhere so easily."
So, Snowden found himself in a transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. "To his credit, he is a brave man, if not to say a little reckless. He spent some time in our zone for transit passengers and then we granted him temporary asylum," the Russian leader said.
"Of course, the US side requested extradition. It is clear that we could not do that," the president said, recalling that Moscow had asked Washington to sign an agreement on mutual extradition of criminals.
"The United States had refused to cooperate with us in this area and under our law he (Snowden) had not violated anything. That’s why given that there was no agreement on mutual extradition and the US had never handed over to us the criminals who got asylum in the US it was absolutely impossible to do what the US partners asked us about," Putin said, refusing to say if Obama had contacted with him on this issue.
Putin stressed that he does not view Snowden as a traitor. "Snowden is not a traitor, he did not betray the interests of his country, nor did he transfer any information to any other country that could have harmed his people," the Russian leader said. "Everything that he does, he does publicly," Putin added.
Edward Snowden is a computer specialist who worked as a contractor for the US National Security Agency and leaked details of its mass surveillance programs to the press in 2013. He fled to Hong Kong and subsequently flew to Moscow in order to head to Ecuador. However, he remained in Russia as the US revoked his passport. Snowden asked more than 20 countries, including Russia, for political asylum. On August 1, 2014, he was granted a residence permit in Russia and has since stayed in the country. He faces years of jail time in the US on espionage charges.