Russia would consider granting asylum to the American who has exposed top-secret U.S. surveillance programs, if he were to ask for it, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on Tuesday.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stopped short of saying Moscow would accept Edward Snowden, but pro-Kremlin lawmakers spoke out in favor of the idea, tapping into a lingering Cold War rivalry with the United States and a vein of anti-American sentiment Putin has often encouraged.
"Promising Snowden asylum, Moscow takes upon itself the defense of people persecuted for political reasons," Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the international affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, said on Twitter.
"There will be hysteria in the United States. They recognize this as their right alone," he said.
Putin and other Russian officials have often accused the United States of hypocrisy, saying it tries to impose standards of human rights, freedom and democracy on other nations while falling far short of them itself.
Snowden, who provided the information for reports that revealed broad monitoring of phone call and Internet data by the U.S. government, fled to Hong Kong and has said he hopes that Iceland might grant him asylum.
He is not known to have mentioned the possibility of asylum in Russia, but Peskov was quoted in Russian daily Kommersant as saying Moscow was open to such an approach.
Asked by Reuters whether Russia would be inclined to grant an asylum request, the spokesman said: "It is impossible (to say) now. No one has applied yet. If he says: I request (political asylum), then we will consider it."