Edward Snowden’s flight across the globe unexpectedly stalled on Tuesday, with Russian officials saying he remained in a Moscow airport's transit zone. Russia has reacted angrily to US pressure to have the National Security Agency leaker extradited.
The US sought help from both adversaries and uneasy allies Tuesday in its efforts to apprehend fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden as Moscow responded angrily to criticism from Washington over Snowden's attempts to evade authorities.
Officials in Russia, which has no extradition treaty with the United States, said Tuesday that Moscow had no role in Snowden’s efforts to escape US prosecution and that he had not exited the airport transit area into Russian territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden remained in the airport's transit zone and said the sooner Snowden chooses a destination, the better.
"He is a transit passenger in the transit zone and is still there now...," Putin told reporters in Finland. "Mister Snowden is a free man. The sooner he selects his final destination point, the better both for us and for himself.”
'AIRPORT HAS BEEN SCOURED, SNOWDEN NOWHERE TO BE FIND'
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that Moscow would not accept any blame for Snowden’s attempts to avoid capture. “We consider the attempts to put blame on the Russian side [...] absolutely groundless and unacceptable,” he said.
After weeks of hiding out in Hong Kong, Snowden flew to Russia and was expected to fly to Havana early on Monday and from there on to Ecuador, where he has applied for asylum.
But what was expected to be a straightforward journey to South America rapidly descended into a farcical mystery tour by late Monday.
Snowden was not on the Havana-bound Russian flight that would have served as the next leg of a trip to safety in Ecuador, and those closest to him have so far refused to reveal his current whereabouts or explain the apparent sudden change in plan.
Not on flight
Journalists chasing the elusive whistleblower were left guessing after window seat 17A on the 12-hour Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Havana – which had been reserved in Snowden’s name – was occupied by somebody else.
Snowden had been widely expected to be the last passenger to board the closely-watched flight.
But when stewards closed the doors of the Airbus 330, the several dozen journalists onboard – who had bought the $2,000 round-trip tickets during a mad scramble to join him on the next leg of his journey – realised they would be making the 12-hour journey to Cuba without him.
His sudden disappearance caused embarrassment for the United States, which is desperately looking to extradite Snowden to face espionage charges.
He fled two weeks ago after disclosing the broad scope of two highly classified counter-terror surveillance programmes to two newspapers. The programmes collect vast amounts of information on American citizens' phone records and worldwide online data in the name of national security.
Global hide and seek
Julian Assange, founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks which is assisting Snowden, declined to discuss on Monday where Snowden is but said he was safe. Assange said Snowden was only passing through Russia and had applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries.
A high-ranking Ecuadorean official told The Associated Press that Russia and Ecuador were discussing where Snowden could go, and that the process could take days. He also said Ecuador’s ambassador to Moscow had not seen or spoken to Snowden. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the case publicly.
Ecuador, like Cuba and Venezuela, is a member of the ALBA bloc, an alliance of leftist governments in Latin America that pride themselves on their “anti-imperialist” credentials. The Quito government has been sheltering Assange at its London embassy for the past year.
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In Washington, the White House demanded that Ecuador and other countries deny Snowden asylum. It also sharply criticised China for letting him leave Hong Kong, and urged Russia to “do the right thing” and send him back to the US to face charges.
But the longer Snowden’s whereabouts remain unknown, the more embarrassing for the United States in what has turned into a global game of hide and seek.
“The problem is the lack of knowledge,” said FRANCE 24’s Washington correspondent Philip Crowther. “The government has done everything it can do legally for now – it has revoked his passport, meaning that he can’t travel legally anywhere without the help of another country. It has also made warnings throughout the day to Russia to not let Snowden leave the country and to hand him over to the US authorities. But in the end, Washington can only presume that Snowden is even in Russia.”
China under fire
In an apparent warning to Russia, the White House on Monday described Hong Kong’s refusal to detain Snowden as having “unquestionably” hurt relations between the United States and China.
While Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy from the rest of China, experts said Beijing probably orchestrated Snowden’s exit in an effort to remove an irritant in Sino-US relations.
“The Chinese have emphasised the importance of building mutual trust,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. [...] This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that China’s move set a “bad precedent” that could unravel extradition treaties or other legal agreements between countries.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-06-25