US whistleblower Snowden 'still in Moscow airport'

Searching for a missing man at a Moscow airport

Fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden is still in the transit area at Moscow airport, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has confirmed.

"He is a transit passenger in the transit zone and is still there now," he said, adding that the sooner he chose a destination, the better.

A White House spokeswoman said Russia had a "clear legal basis" to expel Mr Snowden.

Venezuela has said it would consider an asylum application from Mr Snowden.

"We say and advocate that someone in the world should stand with this young man and protect him, the revelations he has made with courage serve to change the world," President Nicolas Maduro said.

Venezuela's president defends Snowden

Russia says Mr Snowden has not yet passed through immigration, so technically is not yet under their jurisdiction.

The Russians have rejected American charges that they have assisted Mr Snowden.

China has also rejected similar charges, saying accusations that it allowed him to leave Hong Kong despite a warrant for his arrest were "groundless and unacceptable".

Mr Snowden flew from Hong Kong to Moscow on Sunday. He was expected to board a flight to the Venezuelan capital Caracas on Monday but never appeared.

The US has revoked Mr Snowden's passport, and he has applied for asylum in Ecuador.

He is being supported by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, and is being accompanied by some of its legal advisers.

Ecuador is already giving political asylum at its London embassy to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Analysis

The Russian President Vladimir Putin's assertion that the fugitive American remains in the transit area at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport - at least for now - explains why the US Secretary of State John Kerry has sought to calm the flow of escalating rhetoric.

He insisted today that Washington was not looking for confrontation. Mr Kerry clearly hopes that with "calm and reasonableness", as he put it, there may still be a glimmer of a chance that Moscow may hand Mr Snowden over.

Mr Putin, though, supplied no evidence of that.

Mr Putin made it clear that he hopes Mr Snowden moves on soon.

Russia's failure to detain Mr Snowden looks set to sour relations between Washington and Moscow at a time when global problems - not least Syria - require a more concerted effort from the US and Russia.

'Common law'

Russia has no extradition treaty with the United States, but National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that Washington wanted Moscow to extradite Mr Snowden without delay.

John Kerry calls on Russia to transfer Edward Snowden to the US

Earlier on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry also called on Moscow to comply with common law practices between countries and send Mr Snowden to America.

"We would simply call on our friends in Russia to respect the fact that a partner nation- a co-member of the permanent five of the United Nations [Security Council] - has made a normal request under legal systems,'' he said.

However, Mr Putin said: "We can only hand over foreign citizens to countries with which we have an appropriate international agreement on the extradition of criminals,"

Mr Putin also said that Russian security agencies had not worked with, and were not working with, Mr Snowden. He was, the Russian president said, a "free man".

His comments back up those of his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who earlier insisted that "we are in no way involved with either Mr Snowden, his relations with US justice, nor his movements around the world."

The 30-year-old IT expert is wanted by the US for revealing to the media details of a secret government surveillance programme, which he obtained while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA).

He is charged with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.

'Sanctimonious mask'

Mr Snowden was in hiding in Hong Kong when his leaks were first published, and John Kerry said it would be "deeply troubling" if it became clear that China had "wilfully" allowed Mr Snowden to fly out of Hong Kong.

"There would be without any question some effect and impact on the relationship and consequences," he said.

But China is also unhappy. Its government has expressed concern about Mr Snowden's allegations that the US had hacked into networks in China.

Tuesday saw the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party praise Mr Snowden for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask".

Transit zones - a legal grey area

  • The Sheremetyevo airport transit area is Russian sovereign territory, but Russia says that in staying there, Snowden has not formally entered the country
  • Legally, an arriving air passenger may be said to "cross the border" only after clearing immigration, which would require an entry visa
  • If Russia allowed Mr Snowden to enter, it could implicate the state in helping a fugitive, analysts say
  • It is thought Mr Snowden may be staying at a complex of 47 basic "capsule" hotel rooms located in the zone

In a strongly worded front-page commentary, the overseas edition of the People's Daily said: "Not only did the US authorities not give us an explanation and apology, it instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for handling things in accordance with law.

"In a sense, the United States has gone from a 'model of human rights' to 'an eavesdropper on personal privacy', the 'manipulator' of the centralised power over the international internet, and the mad 'invader' of other countries' networks."

Mr Snowden's leaks have led to revelations that the US is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data under an NSA programme known as Prism.

US officials have defended the practice of gathering telephone and internet data from private users around the world.

They say Prism cannot be used to target intentionally any Americans or anyone in the US, and stress that it is supervised by judges.

CLICKABLE

Hawaii

20 May: Snowden flies from Hawaii to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

5 June: From Hong Kong, Snowden discloses details of what he describes as a vast US phone and internet surveillance programme to the UK's Guardian newspaper.

Moscow

23 June: Snowden leaves Hong Kong on a flight to Moscow. He is currently thought to remain airside at Sheremetyevo airport.

Cuba

From Moscow, Snowden could fly to Cuba, en route to Ecuador, which has said it is "analysing" whether to grant him asylum.

Venezuela

Venezuela had also been considered a possible destination for Snowden, however it is thought he would only pass through on his way to Ecuador.

Ecuador

Snowden is reported to have requested asylum in Ecuador, which previously granted haven to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in its London embassy.

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