By Tom Cohen, (CNN): Edward Snowden has applied for asylum in Russia, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Monday, quoting a consular official at the Moscow airport.
However, Russia’s semi-official Interfax news agency continued to report that the head of Russia’s immigration services denied any asylum request had been made.
The confusion reflected the diplomatic tensions over the status of Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has admitted leaking classified documents on U.S. surveillance programs and is in the international transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the door to Snowden possibly remaining in Russia on Monday, saying he “must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners” if he wants to stay.
Putin had said Snowden should depart the airport for his final destination, wherever it might be.
The United States wants Snowden turned over to its authority.
On Monday, President Barack Obama said Snowden traveled to Russia without a valid passport or legal papers, and that he hoped that Moscow would handle the case as it would any other travel-related matter.
Obama confirmed that the United States and Russia have had “high-level” discussions about Snowden, after an earlier report from Russia that the two nations’ top law enforcement officials were working together to resolve the situation.
Snowden has revealed himself as the source of classified documents outlining U.S. surveillance of overseas e-mails related to terrorism, as well as the collection of phone records as a database for further court-approved investigation.
He faces espionage charges in the United States and was seeking asylum from Ecuador. However, Ecuador’s president said over the weekend that it was up to Russia to decide where Snowden travels next.
Snowden was in Hong Kong when his initial leaks were published by The Guardian newspaper in London and then the Washington Post.
He flew to Moscow last month and has been in the transit area, which is international territory, since then.
Snowden says he is leaking the classified information because he believes the U.S. surveillance programs being revealed exceed constitutional limits.
According to the RIA Novosti report Monday, a British woman aiding Snowden handed over documents requesting political asylum in Russia to the consular station of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday night. It attributed the information to Kim Shevchenko, a duty consul at the Russian consular station at the Moscow airport.
Meanwhile, Interfax reported that the head of Russia’s immigration services, Konstantin Romodanovsky, denied such an asylum request had occurred.
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Miriam Falco, Kathryn Tancos, Alexander Hunter, Claudia Rebaza, Patrick Oppmann, Josh Levs, Catherine Shoichet and Susanna Palk contributed to this report.
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