BERLIN — Russian President Vladimir Putin said National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden will have to stop leaking U.S. secrets if he wants to get asylum in Russia.
His comments came as Germany’s federal prosecutor said it is launching a preliminary inquiry into allegations from Snowden that U.S. intelligence agencies tapped European communication channels.
“There is one condition if he wants to remain here: He must stop his work aimed at damaging our American partners. As odd as it may sound from me,” Putin told a news conference in Moscow, reported RT television network.
Putin insisted Russia is not going to extradite Snowden, however, refusing a demand from President Obama that Snowden be returned to the U.S. to face charges of espionage.
“Russia has never extradited anyone and is not going to do so,” Putin said.
“At best,” he said, Russia exchanged its foreign intelligence employees detained abroad for “those who were detained, arrested and sentenced by a court in the Russian Federation.” Putin said Snowden should choose his final destination and go there.
On Monday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was to arrive in Russia for a scheduled visit following statements that Snowden was “almost sure” to get political asylum in his country if he files a formal request.
Ecuador had asked the U.S. about its objections to it allowing Snowden political asylum but has since said no decision had been made allowing him to go the country. Snowden is still “under the care of the Russian authorities” at Moscow’s international airport, according to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.
Snowden still appears to be holed up in an area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he has been since arriving from Hong Kong to escape an extradition request by the United States charging him with espionage.
Also Monday, Russian officials voiced support for Snowden at a meeting in the Public Chamber, reported Moscow news media agency RIA Novisiti. The head of Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov said: “I am convinced that, if Snowden was acting in the public interest, then society is obliged to protect him.”
German news weekly Der Spiegel set off a diplomatic row when it reported Sunday that the NSA had bugged EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels. The report cited secret U.S. documents allegedly obtained by the Snowden before he fled the United States.
Germany said it planned to call in the U.S. ambassador for an explanation over the “breach in trust.”
“We’re no longer in the Cold War,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert told USA TODAY. “Eavesdropping on friends is unacceptable.”
Seibert said the government will assess the facts to determine whether there had been a breach of national security.
Secretary of State John Kerry said he did not know all the particulars about allegations that the U.S. bugged EU offices. But he says many nations engaged in international affairs undertake lots of different kinds of activities to protect their national interests.
Der Spiegel said documents from Snowden it had reviewed characterized Germany as not being in the inner circle of close partners of the U.S. and was the most spied on country in Europe.
“The (German) foreign ministry must be shocked and horrified that it was put in with that company,” said Ben Tonra, a professor at the University College Dublin who specializes in European security issues.
Tonra said European leaders are well aware that all governments including their own spy on each other, but the revelations, if accurate, could force European governments to react publicly in ways that harm relations.
“This opens up potentially a long-running sore in U.S., German relations and broader U.S., European relations,” Tonra said. “ U.S. President Obama was in Germany only recently and part of the rationale of that was to bring U.S, German relations to a higher plain and this blows a hole under the water.”
French President Francois Hollande has requested that the U.S. “immediately stop” spying, Agence France-Presse reported Monday.
Other European officials reacted angrily to Der Spiegel reports that the NSA was spying on the European Union, including the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, home to the European Council.
“If it’s true, it’s a huge scandal,” said Martin Schulz, head of the European Parliament. “It means a huge strain on relations between the EU and the U.S. and we now demand a comprehensive explanation.”
Contributing: Louise Osborne from Berlin; Tilton reported from Berlin; Hjelmgaard in London