Fugitive document leaker Edward Snowden has formally applied for political asylum in Russia after spending eight days in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.
The Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed Russian immigration official as saying that a lawyer from Julian Assange's WikiLeaks organization, traveling with Snowden, filed the application on his behalf late Sunday night.
Reuters also quoted Russian President Vladmir Putin as saying on Monday that while Snowden was not welcome in Russia, he would not be handed over to U.S. authorities if he chose to say.
"If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips," Reuters quoted Putin as telling reporters at a press conference in Moscow.
The latest development comes even as U.S. authorities continue to put pressure on Moscow to send Snowden back to the U.S., where he is wanted on criminal charges. Snowden is charged with violating provisions of the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917 and faces decades in prison if convicted.
Snowden, a former employee of government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, admitted that he illegally accessed numerous classified documents while working on contract at a National Security Agency (NSA) facility in Hawaii. He has claimed that he leaked the documents to the media only to expose the widespread surveillance activities being carried out under the aegis of counter-terrorism.
The U.S. does not have a formal extradition treaty with Moscow and has been trying to get Russia to send him back, citing international norms in such situations.
Snowden arrived in Russia last week after fleeing Hong Kong where he had holed up for several days after leaking documents describing highly classified U.S. surveillance programs to The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. and to the Washington Post.
Snowden's revelations have resulted in unprecedented scrutiny of U.S. surveillance programs and widespread criticism of the activities from rights groups, privacy advocates and allies.
Snowden's actions have drawn almost equal amounts of criticism and praise. Some consider him a patriot for blowing the whistle on dragnet domestic surveillance programs. Others have vilified him as a traitor for exposing critical details of program that are perceived as vital to national security.
Those criticisms have intensified following Snowden's disclosure of U.S. cyberspying activities on academic, government and private entities in China. Snowden's revelation that he sought employment at Booz Allen Hamilton only so he could access secret NSA documents has also caused many to look at his actions unfavorably .
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