Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the kind of secret surveillance programs that Edward Snowden exposed in the U.S. as a “necessity,” but called the former National Security Agency contractor’s efforts to reveal them a “noble cause.”
Mr. Putin, a former KGB officer in the Soviet Union, said he believed the U.S. had good reasons for collecting and analyzing an array of communication data, but worried about the potential for abuse.
“No matter how our American friends are criticized, I believe that all this work is being done to combat terrorism first and foremost,” he said Thursday during his annual year-end news conference. “On the whole, this is a necessity.” He added that “it does have its downsides, however, and you need to introduce limitations to avoid it becoming too politically tinged.”
Mr. Putin also reiterated his support for Mr. Snowden, who was granted political asylum in Russia in August to avoid prosecution in the U.S. on charges under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information.
“He has made this choice. It is a noble cause, of course, but a very challenging life he has chosen. He is quite a curious personality,” Mr. Putin said.
He insisted that Russia’s security service agents have never questioned Mr. Snowden about the information he has admitted divulging, or “what his agency has done toward Russia.”
He also said that he had never met Mr. Snowden personally, but found him interesting.
“He has his own views on life. He has his own vision on what needs to be done. Truth be told, he is quite an interesting personality to me and I think that thanks to Mr. Snowden, the mentality and the mind-set of the world has changed, including among many political leaders,” Mr. Putin said.
Mr. Snowden has been in hiding in Russia under heavy security since being granted refuge. His lawyer said his client had taken a job at an undisclosed Russian website in early November and that he has been studying Russian.But with his political asylum in Russia due for renewal in August 2014, Mr. Snowden has sought to find refuge elsewhere.
Earlier this week, a Brazilian newspaper published an open letter from Mr. Snowden offering to help Brazil uncover potential U.S. espionage against its government in exchange for asylum. Brazil says it hasn’t yet received a formal request for asylum.
In a wide-ranging press conference, Mr. Putin also dismissed a report that Moscow had stationed state-of-the art Iskander missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO and European Union members Poland and Lithuania. But he said that he continues to consider such a move as a way of countering U.S.-led missile defense systems in Europe.
He also said that Russia offered Ukraine a bailout package worth as much as $20 billion this week because it is a “fraternal state” and the two countries need to build a long-term relationship.
The agreement has been denounced by the Ukrainian opposition and tens of thousands of protesters who have been camped in Kiev’s central square—known as Maidan—since President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision last month to walk away from a long-planned trade deal with the EU and turn to Russia for help instead.
“This has nothing to do with Maidan, nor Ukraine’s talks with the European Union. We just see that Ukraine is facing strong challenges and it has to be supported. We have such a capability and we are using it,” Mr. Putin said.
Russia will channel $15 billion from its National Welfare Fund into Ukrainian Eurobonds with a 5% coupon that will be issued in the near future. Mr. Putin said Ukraine proposed to issue Eurobonds on the Irish stock exchange and has asked VTB Capital to manage the placement.