Putin calls US global spying a 'necessity'

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday described US surveillance programmes as a necessity to fight terrorism but also expressed admiration for fugitive Edward Snowden over his leaking of the schemes.

Speaking during his marathon annual press conference, Putin denied he had ever met former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Snowden who now has refugee status in Russia.

"I don't know Mr Snowden, never met him. I have a lot of things to do," Putin said.

But he added: "He's not uninteresting to me. Thanks to him, people have changed their minds on a variety of issues, including political leaders... That is his accomplishment."

Putin said however the spying is a "necessity" and said he "envies" US President Barack Obama.

"He can do this and have no consequences," Putin said of the spying.

"As much criticism as our American friends face, all this work is done primarily to fight terrorism," he said, adding that despite everything "all in all, it is a necessity."

"Espionage is one of the oldest professions," said Putin, himself a former KGB spy, drawing laugher from the audience of hundreds of journalists.

"I am not defending anyone, but to be fair, it's all done primarily to fight terror," Putin said.

Snowden made a series of leaks about global US surveillance programmes after quitting his job as a contractor for the NSA and then attempted to flee to South America only to get stuck in a Moscow airport.

He was eventually granted asylum by Russia and is living in an undisclosed location.

His leaks showed that the United States had spied on state leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, causing a diplomatic scandal.

Putin indicated he believed that Snowden's life circumstances were not easy.

"He made this choice. It's honourable but difficult," Putin said. "What does he have? Nothing. How does he plan to live? Where does he plan to live?"