US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has applied to Russia for political asylum, a Russian official says.
Foreign ministry consul Kim Shevchenko said the request was made on Sunday night. The Kremlin has made no comment.
The 30-year-old former CIA analyst is believed to be holed up in a Moscow airport hotel. He is wanted by the US.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow “never hands over anybody anywhere and has no intention of doing so”.
“If [Snowden] wants to go somewhere and there are those who would take him, he is welcome to do so,” he told a news conference.
“If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his activities aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners, no matter how strange it may sound coming from my lips.”
The US, where Mr Snowden faces charges of espionage, has not yet made any comment on the latest developments.
It was thought Mr Snowden had been seeking asylum in Latin America, possibly Ecuador whose embassy in London is sheltering Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Details have emerged of a letter from Mr Snowden to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, thanking the country for guaranteeing “my rights would be protected upon departing Hong Kong – I could never have risked travel without that”.
He tells President Correa of his “great personal admiration of your commitment to doing what is right rather than what is rewarding”.
President Barack Obama, speaking earlier in Tanzania, said Washington and Moscow had held “high level” discussions about Mr Snowden.
If it was up to the Russian parliament, Edward Snowden’s asylum application might already have been signed and sealed. Fuelled by anti-US sentiment, Russian MPs have been queuing up to support it.
But it will not be parliament that decides: it will be the Kremlin. Earlier, President Putin appeared to suggest it was unlikely Mr Snowden would remain in Russia. The 30-year-old American could stay, he said, on one condition: that he stops damaging Russia’s “American partners” with his leaks. The Kremlin leader added that Mr Snowden probably would not agree to that, and therefore should choose an onward destination and go there.
Might that destination be Venezuela? The Venezuelan president is currently in Moscow attending a gas exporters’ summit. He is due to meet President Putin for talks on Tuesday. It is hard to imagine Edward Snowden’s fate would not be on the agenda.
“We don’t have an extradition treaty with Russia,” he said. “On the other hand, Mr Snowden, we understand, has travelled there without a valid passport and legal papers.
“And we are hopeful the Russian government makes decisions based on the normal procedures regarding international travel and the normal interactions law enforcement have.”
Some Russian politicians and human rights campaigners are publicly backing Mr Snowden’s request, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg reports from Moscow.
If it is granted, the US will be furious but President Putin could claim it is simply the will of the Russian people, he adds.
According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, Mr Snowden’s application for asylum was handed to a consular official at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport late on Sunday evening.
The application was delivered by Sarah Harrison, a member of the Wikileaks legal team acting as Mr Snowden’s representative, Kim Shevchenko was quoted by the news agency saying.
Russia’s Federal Migration Service has denied the reports.
The LA Times quoted a Russian foreign ministry official as saying Mr Snowden had applied to 15 countries for asylum.
Mr Snowden has reportedly been in the transit area of Sheremetyevo Airport since arriving there from Hong Kong on 23 June.
He flew there soon after revealing himself to be the source behind the leaking of thousands of classified documents showing the extent of US email and telephone surveillance.
His father, Lon Snowden, in a letter to the attorney general seen by the BBC at the weekend, said he thought his son would return voluntarily to the US if there were “ironclad assurances that his constitutional rights would be honoured”.
‘Bugging friends unacceptable’
Meanwhile, Washington is facing the fall-out over claims published at the weekend of alleged spying by the US security services on the embassies and missions of its EU allies, including France, Italy and Greece.
The European Commission called the claims “disturbing news if proven true” and said it expected “clarity and transparency” about the issue from Washington.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “bugging friends is unacceptable… We are no longer in the Cold War”.
French President Francois Hollande indicated that a major US-EU trade deal – to be negotiated next week – was under threat unless the US could give a guarantee that its surveillance of the EU had ended.
“We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies. We ask that this immediately stop,” he told journalists during a visit to western France.
Responding to the claims, President Obama said that all nations with intelligence services tried to understand what other nations were thinking, but that if he wanted to know what a European leader was thinking, he would call that person himself.