No asylum request from Snowden - Russia

Russia says said it has not yet received a formal request for political asylum from the American fugitive.

US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a US defence contractor during an interview with the Guardian in Hong Kong. Picture :AFP

MOSCOW - Russia kept former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden at arm's length on Saturday, saying it had not been in touch with the fugitive American and had not yet received a formal request for political asylum.

Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signalled Russia is weighing its options after Snowden, who is stranded at a Moscow airport, broke three weeks of silence and asked for refuge in Russia until he can secure safe passage to Latin America.

Washington urged Moscow to return Snowden to the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges after revealing details of secret surveillance programmes, and President Barack spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Snowden's leaks about US spy methods, including eavesdropping on global email traffic, have upset Washington's friends and foes alike. Stuck at Sheremetyevo airport with his passport revoked, he has become an irritant in relations between the United States and Russia.

"We are not in contact with Snowden," Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying in Kyrgyzstan, where he attended a foreign ministers' meeting.

He said he had learned of Snowden's meeting with Russian human rights activists and public figures at the airport on Friday from the media, "just like everyone else."

Snowden, who had previously kept out of sight since arriving in the airport's transit zone on June 23, told the activists that he would submit his asylum request the same day.

Lavrov said that under Russian law, asylum seekers must first make an official appeal to the Federal Migration Service. But its director, Konstantin Romodanovsky, said on Saturday the agency had not yet received such a request from Snowden.