Amid reports that Moscow is considering handing over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a “gift” to U.S. President Donald Trump, a Russian government spokesperson said Monday that the Kremlin and the White House have not discussed the matter, Russia’s state TASS agency reported.
“No, this issue (Snowden’s fate) was not raised,” presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday, adding that Russian officials have not taken a position on whether Snowden should be extradited to the U.S. or granted Russian citizenship.
“The issue was not raised (during the Russian-US contacts),” Peskov said. “At the moment it is not among bilateral issues.”
The statement comes after Snowden — who has lived in Russia since 2013, first with one-year temporary asylum then a residence permit — revealed in recent days that he is “not afraid” of being handed over to the United States, where he faces espionage charges for his explosive 2013 leak of documents on secret U.S. mass surveillance programs.
However, Snowden also said in an interview with Yahoo News that talk of a possible trade between Moscow and Washington makes him feel “encouraged” because it vindicates him in the face of accusations that he has been a spy for Russia by laying bare the fact that he has always been independent and “worked on behalf of the United States.”
“Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel,” he tweeted on Friday. “No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next.”
In the U.S., Snowden faces charges of theft of government property and violation of the Espionage Act on two counts, which each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
“What I am proud of,” Snowden told Yahoo News, “is the fact that every decision that I have made I can defend.”
Snowden is set to be eligible to apply for Russian citizenship next year, according to his lawyer. Last month, Moscow extended his residence permit, which is now valid until 2020.
The European Parliament narrowly adopted a nonbinding but nonetheless forceful resolution on Thursday urging the 28 nations of the European Union to recognize Edward J. Snowden as a “whistle-blower and international human rights defender” and shield him from prosecution.
On Twitter, Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked millions of documents about electronic surveillance by the United States government, called the vote a “game-changer.” But the resolution has no legal force and limited practical effect for Mr. Snowden, who is living in Russia on a three-year residency permit.
Whether to grant Mr. Snowden asylum remains a decision for the individual European governments, and none have done so thus far.
Still, the resolution was the strongest statement of support seen for Mr. Snowden from the European Parliament. At the same time, the close vote — 285 to 281 — suggested the extent to which some European lawmakers are wary of alienating the United States.