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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
First it was Ecuador, now Russia. Officials in Moscow say Edward Snowden has applied for asylum in Russia. The announcement comes at the end of a day in which Russian President Vladimir Putin made some intriguing and ambiguous comments about the fugitive former NSA contractor.
NPR's Corey Flintoff is with us now from Moscow. And first of all, Corey, what do we know about Snowden's request for asylum in Russia?
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, Robert, a state-run news agency is quoting a Russian Foreign Ministry official who says that Snowden requested asylum yesterday. That would be a week after he arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. He apparently made that request through a WikiLeaks activist who traveled with him from Hong Kong and has been staying with him since. Her name is Sarah Harrison.
We haven't been able to confirm a lot of this directly because it's late here in Moscow and the officials aren't making themselves available to comment.
SIEGEL: Now, Corey, before this news broke, President Putin said at a news conference that Snowden would be allowed to stay in Russia but under certain conditions. Do we know what he meant by that?
FLINTOFF: That's right. Well, Putin said that Russia would not extradite Snowden to the United States and that he'd be allowed to stay on but only if he stopped leaking information - and this is how Putin put it - that was damaging to our American partners. Putin went on to say that since Snowden considers himself to be a human rights activist, he probably wouldn't agree to stop his activities.
So, what wasn't clear in all this is whether Putin meant that Snowden would be granted asylum in Russia, or whether he'd simply be allowed to keep staying in the transit area at the airport. If Snowden made his asylum request yesterday, or even this morning, then Putin must have known about it when he made his comments.
SIEGEL: Some security analysts, Corey, are saying the Russian intelligence services have probably already obtained all of the information from Snowden's computers. Does that seem to check out with you?
FLINTOFF: Well, the analysts that I've talked to say that the Russian intelligence services would certainly be working on Snowden. You know, it's another matter whether they'll be able to take the information without his consent and keep him from telling the world about it later on. But the length of time that Snowden has been stuck in the airport transit zone suggests that the Russians may have been keeping him while they tried to strike some sort of bargain.
SIEGEL: And is this stay of Snowden's at the airport in Moscow, is it a propaganda coup for the Russians?
FLINTOFF: Well, it is a chance for Russia to give back some of the criticism that it's gotten from the United States over the years. You know, the United States routinely charges Russia with human rights violations; most recently, the State Department included Russia on a list of countries that have failed to take meaningful steps to stop human trafficking.
A lot of Russian lawmakers and other figures have been stepping up - they're eager to praise Snowden as this heroic fighter for human rights and transparency. And those are things that Russia doesn't score very well on when it comes to international ratings.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Corey.
FLINTOFF: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow.
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