"No": Putin Denies US Extradition Request for Snowden
Foreign minister rebuffs US demands but also says whistleblower 'never crossed our border'
UPDATE (11:23 AM EST):
According to several reports, Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking from Finland where was traveling on Tuesday, has now personally confirmed that Edward Snowden is at the international airport in Moscow.
The Associated Press reports:
Putin says that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is in the transit zone of a Moscow airport and will not be extradited to the United States.
Putin said that Snowden hasn't crossed the Russian border and is free to go anywhere.
Speaking on a visit to Finland Tuesday, he added that Russian security agencies "didn't work and aren't working" with Snowden. He gave no more details.
Commenting on a U.S. request to extradite him, Putin said that Russia doesn't have an extradition agreement with the U.S. and thus wouldn't meet the U.S. request.
He voiced hope that Snowden will depart as quickly as possible and that his stopover at Moscow's airport wouldn't affect bilateral ties.
Responding to the charge from the US that Russia was harboring a fugitive or interfering with a legal matter, Putin appeared to take the side of Snowden and the whistleblowing media outlet Wikileaks, which has sent a legal advisor to travel with the whistleblower.
“Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they’ll be put in prison?” - Russian President Vladimir Putin
Though well known for his own distaste for domestic dissent, Putin said any accusations against Russia from the US were both "nonsense and rubbish.”
“[Wikileaks founder Julian] Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they’re fighting for the spread of information,” Putin continued. “Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they’ll be put in prison?”
“In any case, I’d rather not deal with such questions, because anyway it’s like shearing a pig – lots of screams but little wool,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Guardian's Miriam Elder, who has been covering the Snowden affair from Moscow, explains why the Russian minister Sergei Lavrov's statements earlier today seem to indicate that Snowden was not in Russia:
Lavrov, and Russian officials in general, are good with wordplay, but at the end of the day, they do tell the truth and are sticklers for following the letter of the law. It just means you have to read their words carefully.
When Lavrov goes around repeatedly saying that Russia is not selling S-300 weapons systems to Syria, it’s technically true – they’re not selling new ones, but fulfilling rolling orders concluded in the past.
So now everyone is trying to pick apart what Lavrov meant when he said that Snowden “did not cross the Russian border”. Was he whisked away from the Hong Kong-Moscow flight to another plane, without going through passport control before getting to the transit area? Was the black car on the tarmac spotted by passengers a diplomatic vehicle waiting to take him to an embassy?
Lavrov didn’t say “Snowden is not in Russia and has never been in Russia”. Until he says that, we will be trying to figure out exactly what he meant.
Responding to aggressive pressure and public demands from US officials that they turn over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Russia's foreign minister pushed back forcefully against its longtime rival for their diplomatic behavior and deepened the mystery surrounding Snowden's current whereabouts by declaring that the man at the center of an international manhunt was not even in Russia.
"I would like to say right away that we have no relation to either Mr. Snowden or to his relationship with American justice or to his movements around the world," said Russia's Sergei Lavrov during a press appearance on Tuesday.
"He chose his route on his own, and we found out about it, as most here did, from mass media," he said. "He did not cross the Russian border."
On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry told the Russians they should "do the right thing" and hand Snowden over even as experts in international law were saying that even if Snowden was in the country, there was no evident legal basis—such as an international arrest warrant—that would compel his extradition.
Despite saying he had no idea of where he was, Lavrov was clear in his expression of Russia's response to what others termed the "bullying" behavior of the US.
"We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violation of U.S. laws and even some sort of conspiracy, which on top of all that are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable," Lavrov said. "There are no legal grounds for such conduct of U.S. officials."
Following a dramatic day Monday—including a pack of international journalists scouring the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow and some who booked a flight to Cuba rumored to contain Snowden—Tuesday's statements by the Lavrov only intensify the speculation surrounding the status of the 30-year-old former NSA contractor.
As The Guardian's Miriam Elder reported from Sheremetyevo on Monday, it is entirely possible, given that no one could confirm seeing Snowden at the airport that perhaps he was not on the plane from Hong Kong that was widely reported to be carrying him.
Snowden is believed to have landed in Moscow shortly after 5pm on Sunday. Lacking a Russian visa, and stripped of his US passport anyway, he could not leave the airport. That left the Capsule Hotel, a newly opened site in Sheremetyevo's terminal E, featuring sparse suites with room for little more than a bed. Receptionists there examined photos of Snowden and said they had never seen him.
As evening began to fall, Ecuador's ambassador to Moscow arrived. He too was seeking Snowden (the country's foreign minister later said it had received an asylum request). He did not know where to find Snowden. He was still waiting in the airport, empty of its daytime rush, at 2am on Monday. It was unclear whether he had, at that point, achieved his goal.
The Associated Press adds:
A representative of WikiLeaks has been traveling with Snowden, and the organization is believed to be assisting him in arranging asylum. The organization's founder, Julian Assange, said Monday that 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, saying 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 authorized to discuss the case publicly.
Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, hailed Snowden on Monday as "a man attempting to bring light and transparency to facts that affect everyone's fundamental liberties."
He described the decision on whether to grant Snowden asylum as a choice between "betraying the citizens of the world or betraying certain powerful elites in a specific country."