Snowden withdraws Russian asylum bid

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on Tuesday withdrew his request for asylum from Russia and petitioned 21 other countries to grant him refuge, according to reports.

A spokesman for the Russian government said that Snowden dropped his bid for asylum after President Vladimir Putin warned the admitted leaker to stop releasing classified information on U.S. intelligence programs.

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“Learning yesterday of Russia's position …. he abandoned his intention and his request to receive the chance of staying in Russia,” said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, according to reports.

WikiLeaks said that the former government contractor had sent asylum requests to other countries, with Austria and Poland confirming they had heard from Snowden.

The move casts more uncertainty on Snowden’s fate as the U.S. government negotiates with Russian officials for his return.

Snowden is facing espionage charges in the U.S. after he admitted to leaking classified documents detailing the NSA’s secret surveillance of phone and Internet traffic. Snowden is believed to be in the transit area of Moscow airport, where he is attempting to evade a U.S. extradition request.

Putin on Monday said that Snowden could stay in Russia pending his bid for asylum, but that he should “stop his work aimed at harming our American partners.”

"If he wants to go away somewhere and someone will accept him there, by all means," Putin added.

President Obama said Monday that “high-level discussions” between Russian and U.S. officials were underway to end the standoff over Snowden.

Obama added that he was “hopeful” Russia would make the right decision.

Snowden had initially sought refuge from Ecuador as well, but those plans appeared to be sidetracked after that nation’s leader, President Rafael Correa, said they would not consider the bid unless Snowden was on Ecuadorian soil.

Vice President Biden last week called Correa, urging him not to accept Snowden.

Snowden on Monday pushed back at the administration’s efforts to secure his capture, accusing Obama of using “tools of political aggression” against him.

"The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon," Snowden said in a statement. 

"Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum."

Snowden’s continued disclosure of U.S. intelligence secrets has also threatened to damage relations with allies. On Sunday the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the NSA had bugged the phone lines of European Union offices in Brussels, Washington and New York.

That disclosure sparked outrage in Europe, with German and French leaders demanding an explanation from the U.S. and warning that the spying could jeopardize U.S.-EU trade talks.