Moscow: NSA leaker Edward Snowden`s best chance of finding refuge outside the United States may hinge on the president of Venezuela, who was in Moscow meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
With a string of countries appearing to offer Snowden little hope, President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela told Russian reporters on today that his country has not received an application for asylum from Snowden and dodged the question of whether he would take Snowden with him when he left.
But Maduro also defended the former National Security Agency systems analyst who released sensitive documents on US intelligence-gathering operations.
"He did not kill anyone and did not plant a bomb," Maduro said ahead of his meeting with Putin, the Interfax news agency reported. "What he did was tell a great truth in an effort to prevent wars. He deserves protection under international and humanitarian law."
During his Kremlin meeting with Putin, Maduro spoke about plans to build on the strong ties with Russia formed under his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, but neither he nor Putin mentioned Snowden in their public statements.
The Kremlin-friendly newspaper Izvestia reported Monday that the two presidents would discuss Snowden, adding to speculation that arrangements would be made for him to travel to Venezuela.
Snowden had initially booked flights to Havana, Cuba, and then on to Caracas, Venezuela, before becoming trapped in legal limbo, believed to be unable to leave a Moscow airport transit zone.
Another option for Snowden may be Bolivia, whose president also met with Putin during a summit of major gas exporters in the Kremlin.
President Evo Morales said in an interview with Russia Today television that Bolivia would be willing to consider granting asylum to Snowden.
This evening, Maduro again spoke out in support of Snowden, without giving any more indication of whether he would help him leave Russia.
"Who must protect Snowden? This is the question. This young man of 29 was brave enough to say that we need to protect the world from the American imperial elite, so who should protect him?" Maduro said in response to a question from journalists covering a ceremony to rename a Moscow street after Chavez. "All of mankind, people all over the world must protect him."
Maduro was scheduled to spend Wednesday in neighboring Belarus before returning to Venezuela.
Snowden, who recently turned 30, withdrew a bid for asylum in Russia when he learned the terms Moscow had set out, according to Putin`s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.