Dec. 19 - Russian President Vladimir Putin said he has not met with former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden to whom Russia granted political asylum this year. Mana Rabiee reports.
EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS STORY REPLACES 4131 WHICH WAS WITHDRAWN. Thank you Russian President Vladimir Putin says he never met Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor who was granted asylum in Russia this year. Putin spoke of him to a packed news conference on Thursday during an annual question-and-answer session with hundreds of journalists from across Russia. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, SAYING: "I have never met him. He has his own views about life, about what he should do and how. I won't hide it that he seems very interesting to me." Snowden - leaked documents revealing a sweeping U.S. government surveillance program. Putin said Russian intelligence agencies had not made contact with Snowden either. During the news conference which was broadcast across the country, Putin said he envied President Barack Obama for the might of U.S. intelligence services. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, SAYING: "I envy him. I envy him because he is able to do this, and nobody will do anything to him for that. There is not much to rejoice about all this though. But on the other hand, there is no big reason to be unhappy about it either." As for Snowden, whose Russian asylum expires in August, Putin said it's up to the American to decide what to do next. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, SAYING: "Well, he should live his life by himself in the future. We are not helping him but we are not hurting him either. We just gave him asylum." Putin also focused on Ukraine in his comments. He said Russia's bailout of the former Soviet republic was to stave off economic crisis there, and not designed to keep its big neighbor out of western Europe's influence.