Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, wants to apply for asylum in Russia until he can be guaranteed safe transit to Latin America, according to Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, who met with Snowden in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport Friday.
Wikileaks also released a statement, said to be from Snowden, in which he accepted all of his current and future offers of asylum and asked for safe passage.
"I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted," Wikileaks quoted Snowden as saying. "I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably."
Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum; but it remains extremely difficult to fly to those places without crossing U.S. or Western European airspace.
Wikileaks said in its preamble to Snowden's statement that the U.S. Ambassador to Russia called Lokshina on her way to the meeting "to relay to Mr Snowden that the US Government does not categorise Mr Snowden as a whistleblower and that he has broken United States law."
The U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul denied to HuffPost that he had spoken with Lokshina.
The meeting in the Moscow airport was the first reported sighting of Snowden since he landed there on June 23, although journalists have been searching for him in vain. The meeting was also attended by several other representatives from human rights organizations, and a cell phone video of what appears to be a portion of the meeting was recently published by pro-Kremlin news website Lifenews.ru (featured above).
The announcement put the NSA leaker back in Russia's sights, after the country had argued that because Snowden had remained in the transit zone, he had not officially crossed the Russian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden could stay in Russia but only if he stopped his work "aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners."
Russian Duma MP Vyacheslav Nikonov, a grandson of Stalin's foreign minister, said that Snowden does not intend to harm the U.S. in the future, which would potentially satisfy Putin's conditions for granting Snowden's request for asylum.
However, it's not likely that the U.S. will give up its effort to bring Snowden back to face espionage charges, should that occur. Snowden's announcement, whatever the outcome, could complicate U.S.-Russian relations, as the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
During a press briefing Friday afternoon, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki repeatedly expressed concern that Russia had facilitated a "propaganda platform" for Snowden by allowing the meeting to take place.
Later, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney echoed Psaki's use of the phrase "propaganda platform" to characterize the meeting, adding that such a meeting was "incompatible to Russian assurance that they do not want Mr. Snowden to further damage U.S. interests." He said that President Barack Obama would speak with Putin about Snowden in a pre-scheduled phone call Friday afternoon.
Rumors flew recently regarding Snowden's whereabouts, prompted by a Russian lawmaker's tweet (later deleted) and the southerly path of a Moscow-Havana Aeroflot flight on Thursday.
Snowden had previously been in Hong Kong when he identified himself as the source of classified documents provided to The Guardian and The Washington Post detailing the NSA's phone and Internet spying programs.
This article has been updated from its originally published version.