Russian officials were in touch with Edward Snowden before the US intelligence leaker flew to Moscow from Hong Kong, President Vladimir Putin has revealed.
In the first official confirmation of what some – particularly in Washington – have long suspected, Mr. Putin said Russian officials had been in contact with Snowden while he was on the run in Hong Kong in June. But the Russian leader said he had not been aware that the US fugitive was on the June 23 flight to Moscow until two hours before his plane landed.
Speaking to Russian state television and the Associated Press ahead of the G-20 summit on Thursday, Mr Putin also accused American intelligence agencies of bungling efforts to apprehend Snowden, who is wanted in the US on espionage charges. He said the United States could have allowed Snowden to go to a country where his security would not be guaranteed or intercepted him along the way, but instead pressured other countries not to accept him or even to allow a plane carrying him to cross their airspace. Russia has granted him temporary asylum.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Mr. Putin once again denied that Russia’s security services are working with Snowden, whose stay in Russia has been shrouded in secrecy.
The affair reopened old wounds in the US-Russia relationship and prompted terse exchanges between the White House and the Kremlin, President Barack Obama accusing Mr Putin of a “Cold war mentality”. Mr Putin told the state channel he felt sorry that President Barack Obama had cancelled a one-on-one meeting in Moscow that was supposed to have taken place before the G-20 summit in St Petersburg.
But he expressed hope the two would have serious discussions about Syria and other issues at the summit.
“President Obama hasn’t been elected by the American people in order to be pleasant to Russia. And your humble servant hasn’t been elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone either,” he said of their relationship.
Edited by Hannah Strange
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