Vladimir Putin has said that Russia has no mass telephone and internet surveillance programs to compare with those in the United States.
The Russian President made the claim in his annual Q&A session on live TV on Thursday, when the topic was raised in a call-in question in English by NSA-leaker Edward Snowden.
"Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?" Snowden asked. "And do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than subjects, under surveillance?"
Responding through a translator, Putin glibly said that since he used to work for an intelligence agency and Snowden is himself a former spy, the two could speak "one professional language."
"We don't have a mass system of such interception, and according with our law it cannot exist," Putin said.
Edward Snowden quizzes Russian President Vladimir Putin on surveillance
He added that although Russian law enforcement and spy agencies do conduct some surveillance when investigating criminal matters, they must get permission from a court to target specific individuals. "Mass-scale, uncontrollable efforts" like those in the US do not exist in Russia, Putin said.
"Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and are regulated by the law," he claimed.
He further observed that in Russia "we don't have as much money as they have in the States, and we don't have these technical devices that they have in the States."
Snowden, who has been living in Russia since being granted temporary asylum in 2013, submitted his question via video and was not given the opportunity to respond to Putin's answers.
During the same Q&A session, Putin was also asked whether he has any plans to annex the US state of Alaska, which was a Russian territory until it was sold to the US in 1867 for $7.2m in gold. A recent online petition proposing the return of Alaska to Russian rule has garnered more than 40,000 signatures.
"Who needs Alaska?" Putin quipped, before adding, "I want to emphasize once again, Russia is interested in growing relations with the United States and will do everything to ensure that this confidence is restored." ®