Moscow has opened the door to asylum for NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
There is no official information that the 29-year-old Snowden has applied for asylum, after admitting he exposed U.S. surveillance programs that have logged millions of phone calls and the Internet activities of Americans.
However, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday the Communist country would consider such an asylum request.
"If such an appeal is given, it will be considered,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian newspaper Kommersant. “We'll act according to facts."
The comment was reported first by The Guardian.
Snowden, who until Tuesday was a National Security Agency contract worker, has said he is looking for a country in which to seek asylum that has “shared values.”
Snowden fled to Hong Kong after news reports last week about the U.S. date mining. He has been in hiding since appearing in a video Sunday in which he claims to be the source of the leaks.
Snowden’s decision to decamp to Hong Kong offers no guarantee of freedom.
Hong Kong has a relatively solid human rights record and signed an extradition treaty with the United States in 1996, but the island region is now largely under the rule of Communist China, notorious for spying on the United States.
“Does he not know (Hong Kong) now belongs to the People’s Republic of China?” asked Steve Bucci, a foreign policy expert with the Heritage Foundation.
Other experts suggest Snowden is trying to take advantage of a recent Hong Kong court decision requiring a review of asylum applications, which also could allow him to stay there while the process remains in limbo.
Simon Young, of the University of Hong Kong’s law center, told the online news agency GlobalPost that everybody is waiting to learn how the Hong Kong government is going to implement the court decision.
"Until that’s the case, you can’t return anyone until the law’s in place," he said.
An extradition process could take months or even years, experts say.
Snowden has reportedly said his best hope for asylum is in Iceland “with its reputation of a champion of Internet freedom.”
To be sure, Iceland has no extradition agreement with the United States, but how and when he would get there remains unclear.
Right now, Snowden’s whereabouts remain uncertain, though he told The Guardian he has been in Hong Kong since May 20.
And the Justice Department has said only that the agency is “in the initial stages” of an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by somebody with authorized access.