Russia denies Snowden involvement as mystery deepens
MOSCOW, Russia (UPDATE) - Russia on Tuesday, June 25, denied that US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden had ever crossed its border and attacked US claims of complicity in his disappearance, as the mystery deepened over the whereabouts of the wanted ex-contractor.
The United States had earlier urged Moscow to use all means to expel Snowden, who leaked revelations of massive surveillance programs to global media, but it remained unclear if he was still lying low at a Moscow airport.
Snowden reportedly arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on a flight from Hong Kong on Sunday, June 23. But Russian officials have insisted that he never left the airport's transit zone.
The dispute risks sharpening tensions between Washington and Moscow as well as Beijing at the very moment they are struggling to overcome differences to end the conflict in Syria.
"We are in no way involved with either Mr Snowden, his relations with US justice, nor in his movements around the world," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference.
Lavrov did not confirm or deny that the 30-year-old former National Security Agency (NSA) technician had arrived at Sheremetyevo on Sunday. But he insisted that Snowden had never crossed the Russian border to exit the airport.
"He chose his route on his own. We learned about it, as most of those present did, from the mass media. He did not cross the Russian border," Lavrov told reporters.
'He may not have decided where to go'
Sources quoted by Russian news agencies have said that Snowden spent at least Sunday night in a "capsule hotel" located in the transit area of Sheremetyevo which would not have required him to pass through passport control or have a Russian visa.
The leftist Latin American state of Ecuador has said it was considering a request he made for asylum.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, himself holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid charges of sexual assault in Sweden, said Snowden was "safe" after leaving Hong Kong with a refugee document supplied by Ecuador.
The Interfax news agency reported Monday that he had "likely" already left Russia but airport sources quoted by Russian media insisted he was still in the airport zone.
There has been no verifiable sighting of Snowden in Moscow.
"As far as we know, he is still in the transit zone," an airport security source told ITAR-TASS. "He may still not have decided where to head next."
With no clear picture emerging, Interfax quoted a source as saying the Russian authorities could detain Snowden to check his papers, a report that was then contradicted by the rival ITAR-TASS.
Muddying the waters further, Alexei Pushkov, who heads the lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, expressed doubt on Twitter about whether Snowden had ever come to Russia.
"No one saw him on the Hong Kong flight and no one saw him at the airport," said Pushkov.
'Groundless and unacceptable'
The White House earlier called on Moscow to look at all the options available to expel Snowden back to the United States, with spokesman Jay Carney saying Washington assumed that Snowden was still in Moscow.
Speaking in Jeddah, US Secretary of State John Kerry called for Russia to be "calm" and hand over Snowden, saying Washington was not looking for "confrontation."
But Lavrov slammed Washington and rubbished suggestions that Moscow was complicit in Snowden's disappearance.
"We think the attempts to blame Russia of breaking US laws and even complicity are absolutely groundless and unacceptable," he said, complaining the accusations were accompanied by "threats".
"There are no legal grounds for such behaviour by US officials," he added.
Hong Kong, a special administrative region under Chinese rule that has maintained its own British-derived legal system, said the US government request to arrest him did not fully comply with Hong Kong legal requirements.
But Carney lashed out at Beijing over its purported role in the affair, saying China's behavior had undermined efforts to build trust with new President Xi Jinping.
"We think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there is a problem," said Carney.
Meanwhile Snowden told the South China Morning Post in a story published Tuesday that he joined contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, from which he stole secrets on NSA surveillance programs, specially to gain access to sensitive information and spill it to the press.
Prominent pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho, one of three lawyers who agreed to represent Snowden in Hong Kong, told AFP that Snowden came to Hong Kong alone and felt "helpless".
Snowden abandoned his high-paying intelligence contractor job in Hawaii and went to Hong Kong on May 20 to begin issuing a series of leaks on the NSA gathering of phone call logs and Internet data, triggering concern from governments around the world. - Rappler.com