US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden remained stranded in a Moscow airport for a 14th day yesterday amid rising hopes he may finally be able to leave Russia after being offered asylum by Venezuela.
The saga surrounding the fugitive former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor took a new turn late on Friday when Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offered to grant the 30-year old “humanitarian asylum.”
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had only moments earlier also said his Latin American country could offer a safe haven for one of Washington’s most wanted men “if circumstances permit.”
Snowden had earlier been denied asylum by many of the 21 countries to which he had applied last week.
The WikiLeaks anti-secrecy Web site that has been supporting Snowden’s cause said he had recently applied to six additional countries that it refused to name.
However, it was far from clear how exactly Snowden could reach another nation from the transit zone of Russia’s sprawling Sheremetyevo International Airport.
He has been stripped of his passport by the US authorities and a refugee pass initially believed to have been offered to him by Ecuador has since been declared invalid.
Snowden could only take flights from Sheremetyevo and not another Moscow airport to which visiting foreign dignitaries such as Maduro have access because he cannot move beyond Russian passport control.
Meanwhile, analysts said Moscow may be increasingly concerned about getting sucked into a diplomatic spat with Washington that it had never planned for and which it would rather avoid.
Maduro visited Moscow at the start of the week for a gas summit during which he strongly hinted that Venezuela — long a diplomatic irritant for the US — could welcome the opportunity to help Snowden out.
However, he made his intentions absolutely clear in an address at an independence day event in Caracas.
“As head of state of the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela, I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young Snowden ... to protect this young man from the persecution launched by the most powerful empire in the world,” Maduro said.
Ortega voiced a slightly more toned down message.
“We are open, respectful of the right to asylum, and it is clear that if circumstances permit it, we would receive Snowden with pleasure and give him asylum here in Nicaragua,” Ortega said at a public event.