Snowden's Hopes Rise on Venezuela Asylum Offer

Saturday, 06 Jul 2013 06:29 AM


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MOSCOW — Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden remained stranded in a Moscow airport for the 14th day Saturday amid rising hopes he may finally be able to leave Russia after being offered asylum by Venezuela.

The saga surrounding the fugitive former National Security Agency contractor took a new turn late Friday when Venezuela's leftist President Nicolas Maduro offered to grant the 30-year old "humanitarian asylum."

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had only moments earlier also said his Latin American country could offer a safe haven for one of Washington's most wanted men "if circumstances permit." Later Saturday, Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Saturday he would grant asylum to Snowden, if requested.

Snowden had earlier been denied asylum by many of the 21 countries to which he had applied last week.

The WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website that has been supporting Snowden's cause said he had recently applied to six additional countries that it refused to name.

But it was far from clear how exactly Snowden could reach another nation from the transit zone of Russia's sprawling Sheremetyevo international airport.

He has been stripped of his passport by the U.S. authorities and a refugee pass initially believed to have been offered to him by Ecuador has since been declared invalid.

Snowden could only take flights from Sheremetyevo and not another Moscow airport to which visiting foreign dignitaries such as Maduro have access because he cannot move beyond Russian passport control.

Analysts meanwhile said Moscow may be increasingly concerned about getting sucked into a diplomatic spat with Washington that it had never planned for and which it would rather avoid. 

Maduro visited Moscow at the start of the week for a gas summit during which he strongly hinted that Venezuela — long a diplomatic irritant for the United States — could welcome the opportunity to help Snowden out.

But he made his intentions absolutely clear in an address at an independence day event in Caracas.

"As head of state of the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela, I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young Snowden . . . to protect this young man from the persecution launched by the most powerful empire in the world," said Maduro said.

"I announced to the friendly governments of the world that we have decided to offer this international human right to protect this young man," he announced.

Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega voiced a slightly more toned down message only minutes earlier.

"We are open, respectful of the right to asylum, and it is clear that if circumstances permit it, we would receive Snowden with pleasure and give him asylum here in Nicaragua," Ortega said at a public event.

Ecuador had been seen as the American's best hope when he arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23 after leaking secrets about the extent of the U.S. data surveillance program to the press.

But the leftist government in Quito has yet to consider his application.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to extradite Snowden to the United States while still stressing that he would like to see him gone as soon as possible.

Analysts interpret the mixed message as a sign that Moscow feel like they are being drawn into a fracas with Washington at a time when it would rather avoid additional difficulties to the two sides' strained ties.

"Russia is not happy that he is here. If it wanted to offer him asylum, this would have been done right away," said Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Maria Lipman.

She noted that Putin himself was a former KGB spy who cares deeply about the safety of state secrets.

"Putin does not want to help someone who reveals secrets — Putin is very serious about this," said Lipman.

"He would like to get rid of Snowden, but this is getting more and more difficult," the analyst said.

Alexander Konovalov of the Institute of Strategic Assessments agreed that "there is nothing for us to gain from Snowden."

Putin has denied ever questioning Snowden about the details of the US spy network and has even suggested that doing so was not worth the effort.

"Russia does not want to take in Snowden," said Russia in Global Politics magazine editor Fyodor Lukyanov.

"But it fears that the situation can develop in such a manner that it will have no choice but to take him in."

© AFP 2014

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