"The problem is not that we’re defending Snowden. We’re not. The problem is that we don’t have a mutual extradition treaty with the United States,” Putin said in an interview according to a transcript of his interview with The Associated Press and Russia’s Channel One television.
"The United States refused to sign such a treaty with us. And they do not extradite our criminals… who have tortured people, trafficked people, whose hands are covered in blood,” Putin said, giving no further detail.
"It’s clear that we’re not handing him over, he can feel safe here,” Putin said, according to a transcript of the interview on the Kremlin website.
He added that Snowden was a "strange guy…who has doomed himself to a fairly complicated life.”
Putin said that the US security services "could have acted more professionally” when tracking down Snowden, who initially fled the United States for Hong Kong. Instead of intercepting him in some transit country friendly to the United States, the US authorities mounted a campaign of pressure that left Snowden stranded in Russia, Putin said.
Putin also confirmed earlier reports that Snowden contacted the Russian embassy in Hong Kong to probe them over a potential asylum bid.
But the Russian president said he made it clear that Snowden would have to "give up any activity harmful to Russian-American relations” in order to be admitted into Russia.
"And he walked away, he just walked away,” Putin said.
Snowden, 30, a former intelligence contractor for America’s National Security Agency, in May passed information to the media on US and British state-run surveillance programs. He found himself stranded in Russia en route to Cuba and was granted a year’s asylum in Russia last month after spending 40 days in a Moscow airport’s transit zone.