30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Edward Snowden is a 'strange guy' who has chosen a 'difficult life', says Putin
Russian leader also admits his aides contacted whistleblower in Hong Kong about asylum
Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, who received asylum in Russia, is a "strange guy" who condemned himself to a difficult fate.
"You know, I sometimes thought about him, he is a strange guy," ex-KGB spy Putin said in an interview with state-run Channel One television.
"How is he going to build his life? In effect, he condemned himself to a rather difficult life. I do not have the faintest idea about what he will do next," the Russian leader said.
He also revealed he had known about Snowden's Russian asylum request while the whistle-blower was still in Hong Kong.
The case has intensified strains between Russia and the United States and prompted US President Barack Obama to cancel a visit to Moscow for a bilateral summit ahead of the G20 summit this week.
Putin said: "Well, it's clear we will not give him up, he can feel safe here. But what's next?" He also suggested that Washington, which wants to put Snowden on trial, may in time reconsider its stance, adding: "Maybe some compromises will be found in this case." But asked what would he do with Snowden were he Russian, Putin said he would do everything to make sure he was "held responsible in strict accordance with Russian law".
Before receiving temporary asylum Snowden spent over a month marooned in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23.
In the interview, Putin revealed for the first time that he had known about Snowden's request to receive asylum in Russia while he was still in Hong Kong and told him via his aides that he was welcome to arrive in Russia as long as he stopped his leaks.
"He was told about it," Putin said of Snowden, adding he did not agree to his conditions. "And he left, just left, [the Russian diplomatic mission in Hong Kong ] and that's it," he said.
"Then he started flying to Latin America on a plane. I was told that Mr Snowden was flying to us two hours before the plane's landing."
Putin's revelation comes after he repeatedly stressed that Snowden had turned up in Russia uninvited.
The Russian strongman reiterated that Russian could not extradite him simply because Moscow and Washington did not have an extradition treaty even though Russia proposed concluding such an agreement.
He added that Washington should not insist that Russia extradite Snowden when the US refuses to expel Russian "bandits".
Putin also suggested the US mishandled the affair. "Representatives of the American special services - and I hope they won't be angry - but they could have been more professional, and the diplomats as well.
"After they found out that he was flying to us, and that he was flying as a transit passenger, there was pressure from all sides - from the Americans, from the Europeans - instead of just letting him go to a country where they could operate easily," he said.