Edward Snowden Can Stay as Long as He Likes, Says Russia

Maria Zakharova
Russian Foreign Ministry's Maria Zakharova addresses a press conference, Moscow, June 28, 2016. Nikita Shvetsov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden can stay in Russia until he decides to leave, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said.

"I think that that is something he will decide himself," Zakharova said on Thursday when Yahoo News anchor Katie Couric asked her how long Snowden's sojourn in Russia will continue. The former NSA contractor has been living in Russia since 2013, after leaking thousands of classified intelligence documents and fleeing the U.S.

"I have never met him, I have never talked to him. I don't know. It is up to him to decide. He is just a human being. He's a person and he has his own will to decide where he will stay," she said.

Zakharova refused to provide additional comment on whether or not Russia would consider extraditing him to the U.S. where he would be tried, saying: "This is not my field."

The interview was combative from the start, with Zakharova questioning Couric's choice of words when she referred to the Russian government as a "regime." She insisted President Vladimir Putin's government was elected in a "democracy."

"Do you use the same word—regime—for the American administration?" Zakharova asked.

The spokeswoman was also cagey on the issue of reports of detentions and abductions of gay Russian nationals in the region of Chechnya, which, despite being a federal republic that enjoys a great degree of autonomy from Moscow on social policy, is close to Putin.

Independent reports have estimated up to six detention centers for LGBT people in Chechnya operate covertly.

"This is not my issue," Zakharova said.

She refused to comment on allegations that Moscow was keeping deliberately quiet on the issue and promised to return with more comment from relevant agencies.

Zakharova concluded the interview speaking about the "lack of trust" between the U.S. and Russia and about Peggy Whitson, the NASA astronaut that logged the most space hours in the agency's history earlier this week.

"Those pictures [of Whitson] could be like a symbol of the Russian-American relationship in the future," she said. "You know why? Because her space suit which she was wearing was made in Russia."