MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin suggested Monday that American fugitive Edward Snowden might be allowed to stay in Russia, and said the Russians would never turn Snowden over to the United States.
"If he wants to go somewhere and somebody will host him – no problem," Putin said in televised remarks during a news conference in Moscow. "If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners."
It appears, the Russian president added, that Snowden has no such intention. "So he must choose for himself a country to stay in and move there," he said. "Unfortunately, I don't know when this will happen. If I knew I would tell you now."
Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked U.S. security secrets, met Monday morning with Russian consular service officials and handed them an appeal to 15 countries for political asylum, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official didn't name the countries, but said that Russia was among them.
Kim Shevchenko, a Russian consular official at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, later confirmed to the Interfax news agency that Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia.
The United States has a warrant for Snowden's arrest and has asked that Russia return him, despite the fact that the two countries do not have an extradition treaty. Putin dismissed the notion, while noting that Russia does engage in spy swaps.
"Russia never hands anybody over anywhere and doesn't intend to do so," the Russian leader said. "At best, we exchanged our Foreign Intelligence Service agents for those who were detained and arrested and convicted in a Russian Federation court."
Putin stressed that Snowden is not a Russian agent and that he is not cooperating with Russian special services. "I am telling you responsibly he is not cooperating with us today, either."
Earlier in the day, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said to reporters that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) and the American FBI "are in constant contact" over Snowden.
Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the monthly National Defense journal, said it appeared that Putin was, in effect, offering a peace deal to the United States over Snowden.
"Putin publicly pledged that if Snowden stays in Russia the Kremlin will do its best to prevent any public exposures in the Russian mass media of the CIA's and NSA's secret activities," Korotchenko said. "Washington should see this as a fair deal, a much better bargain than if Snowden goes on to Venezuela and continues to expose U.S. special services operations."
"Putin made it as clear as possible that Russia is not playing a game with the United States and that Snowden landed in Russia quite unexpectedly for the Kremlin," the analyst added.