Updated 10:15 a.m. ET Thursday
Russian President Vladimir Putin told National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on Thursday during a live broadcast that Russia doesn’t intercept citizens’ data en masse.
“You are a former spy so we will talk one professional language,” Putin, a former officer in the former Soviet Union’s KGB intelligence agency, told Snowden after he asked during a televised questions-and-answers session if Russia intercepts “the communications in any way of millions of individuals.”
“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law. We have to get permission to stalk any particular person,” Putin said.
The White House did not comment on the Snowden-Putin exchange.
Putin also admitted during the broadcast for the first time that Russian troops had been sent to Crimea, which Russia annexed last month after it split from Ukraine. He stressed during the show that he had Russian lawmakers’ blessings to deploy military forces in eastern Ukraine as well if necessary.
“I remind you that the Federation Council has given the president the right to use armed forces in Ukraine,” he said, referencing the upper house of Russia’s Parliament, according to the Times. “I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that by political and diplomatic means we will be able to solve all of the sharp problems.”
Putin’s comments come as Russia has massed troops along the border with Ukraine after pledging to “protect” the large Russian minority in the region. Recent clashes between authorities and pro-Russian protesters have intensified in recent hours, as three separatists were killed during a firefight early Thursday near a Ukrainian National Guard outpost.
“The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast,” Putin said, according to the Times. “It’s new Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there — we need to encourage them to find a solution.”
This post has been updated to reflect the White House’s lack of comment on the Putin-Snowden exchange.
[New York Times]