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Putin says US traps Snowden in Russian zone

States strategy scared nations from taking him

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin told an audience of students on Monday that the United States had effectively trapped Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive former intelligence contractor, on Russian territory by frightening countries that otherwise might have accepted him.

When Putin insisted that Russia did not want Snowden to cause damage to the United States, the students laughed out loud.

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Putin made the remarks on Gogland Island in the Gulf of Finland, where he was reviewing projects of the Russian Geographical Society.

His remarks concerning Snowden, who announced Friday that he would formally request asylum in Russia, came during a meeting with student researchers who were attending an archeological camp on the island.

Russian officials said Monday that they had not yet received an application from Snowden, and Putin did not say outright whether he would grant such a request. But the president clearly signaled that it remained a possibility, with a reference to his prior statements that Snowden could apply for asylum in Russia provided that he stopped publishing classified material harmful to the United States.

Snowden arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport outside Moscow on a flight from Hong Kong on June 23, and he has been there since, living in the transit zone of the airport with the consent of the Kremlin and apparently with some support from the Russian authorities.

On Friday, Snowden met with lawyers, Russian officials, and representatives of human rights organizations. His visitors were given special passes into the transit zone, which is technically outside Russia’s border controls, by the Russian Customs Service, and the meeting was arranged with the help of the airport management.

A bus took the visitors from one part of the terminal to another, where they met with Snowden in a room with a door marked “staff only.”

Putin, in his remarks to the young researchers on the island, jokingly described Snowden as an unwanted Christmas present.

“He arrived on our territory without an invitation,” Putin said. “He didn’t fly to us; he flew in transit to other countries. But only when it became known that he was in the air, our American partners, in fact, blocked him from flying further.

“They themselves scared all other countries; no one wants to take him, and in this way they themselves in fact blocked him on our territory. Such a present for us for Christmas.”

Putin said that Snowden was aware that to apply for asylum in Russia, he must first stop his political activities — presumably all leaking of classified information that could harm the United States. But given Russia’s long intelligence rivalry with the United States, it is hard to believe that Putin has not been enjoying Washington’s discomfort over Snowden.

“We have a certain relationship with the US, and we don’t want you with your political activities damaging our relationship with the US,” Putin said, describing his view toward Snowden. “He said no,” Putin continued.

“You are laughing,” he told the students. “But I am serious. He said, ‘I want to continue my activities, I want to struggle for human rights, that the US violated some international law, interference with privacy, and my goal is to struggle against this.’ We said: ‘Only, not with us. We have other things to struggle against.’

“Judging by the latest statements, he is changing his position somehow,” Putin said. “But the situation has not yet become clear.”

In a separate development, Glenn Greenwald, a columnist with The Guardian newspaper who first reported on the US intelligence leaks, said in an interview with the Associated Press that Snowden has highly sensitive documents on how the National Security Agency is structured and operates. But Snowden has insisted that they not be made public, Greenwald said.

Greenwald said in Rio de Janeiro that disclosure of the information in the documents ‘‘would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it.’’

The Obama administration has been pressing Russia not to grant asylum to Snowden, and it has also been pressuring other countries not to take him. Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua have said they are willing to grant him asylum.

President Obama spoke with Putin by telephone on Friday. Neither side has disclosed precisely what was said about Snowden during the call, but the White House has made clear that in its view, American interests are being harmed as long as Snowden is at large.

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