MOSCOW, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Russia has extended its asylum for U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden for "a couple of years," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday.
The decision was made in defiance of a recent statement by former CIA deputy director Michael Morell saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a great opportunity to extradite Snowden as a "perfect inauguration gift" to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
"The essence of what the former CIA man is offering is the ideology of betrayal," Zakharova said on Facebook.
"What you have leaked, Mr. Morell, makes now clear to everybody that for your office it is normal to present gifts in the form of people and extradite those seeking protection," she added.
Snowden's residence permit has been extended until 2020 and soon he will have all legal grounds to apply for Russian citizenship, the whistleblower's lawyer Anatoly Kucherena was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti news agency Wednesday.
According to Russian law, one has to live in the country for no less than five years to apply for citizenship.
Snowden, a computer professional who had done contractual work for the U.S. National Security Agency, fled to Russia in 2013 after revealing thousands of classified documents to the press. He was wanted by Washington on charges of espionage.
Russian authorities initially granted him asylum for one year before a three-year extension.
On Tuesday, outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of another whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, from 35 years to seven. The former U.S. Army intelligence officer was sentenced for giving classified government information to Wikileaks.
The commutation of Manning's sentence raised concerns about the possible alleviation of charges against Snowden.
However, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last week that there was a "stark difference" between Manning's crime and Snowden's actions, with Snowden's being "far more serious and far more dangerous."
Responding to the issue, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying that they did not know what Snowden had done.