MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the status of alleged NSA leaker Edward Snowden's asylum request remains unclear, but said the 30-year-old former contractor is expected to leave his country "as soon as he has the chance."
Putin, speaking to students, joked that Snowden was like a "Christmas gift" that had been temporarily held in a Moscow airport while on his way to his final destination.
As to what he thinks will happen next, Putin said, "Why should I know? It's his life, his fate."
Snowden, who allegedly stole thousands of secret documents from America's National Security Agency and handed them over to several journalists, emerged for the first time during his nearly three-week stay in the transit area a Moscow airport Friday to decry U.S. pressure on other countries to hand him over, and to say that he plans to apply for temporarily asylum in Russia. Snowden is believed to be attempting to eventually find safe haven in one of a number of South American countries that have offered him asylum.
Putin also today leveled an accusation that the U.S. "scared" other countries into denying Snowden entry, essentially locking him in "our territory." Putin previously said that Snowden is welcome to stay in Russia, but only if he stops leaking information that "damages our U.S. partners." Snowden said Friday that he doesn't see what he's doing as damaging to the U.S, adding he has no more classified information to leak. He has been charged in the U.S. with espionage.
Putin has repeatedly said that Russia has nothing to do with Snowden or his plans, and since Snowden is in the transit area of the airport, he technically has not entered Russia. However, Russian security services helped organize Snowden's speaking event Friday, suggesting at least some cooperation between Russian authorities and Snowden's supporters.
Earlier today Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Russian officials had not yet received Snowden's formal application and said political asylum requests generally take months to work their way through the system. However, Russia has been known to expedite the process on special occasions.
Putin's comments come days after the first journalist to break the NSA stories based on Snowden's information, The Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, told ABC News that his reporting - which has already revealed vast domestic and foreign surveillance programs and the legal justifications for them - is not even halfway done. Greenwald told The Associated Press Sunday that among the documents snatched by Snowden was a "blueprint" of the NSA's inner workings, but Snowde insisted it not be published.