Russia repudiated American accusations of flouting demands to help capture Edward Snowden after criticism by U.S. officials for allowing the former security contractor to transit through Moscow.
Snowden, who arrived in the Russian capital on a commercial flight from Hong Kong on June 23, independently chose his route and didn’t cross the country’s border, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow today in the first comments by a senior Russian official on the case. There’s “no legal justification” for U.S. demands to extradite him, he said, declining to comment on Snowden’s location.
Russia, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S., has refused to assist a global manhunt for the fugitive whistleblower as American intelligence agencies mount an investigation into a possible role by China in Snowden’s leaks. Snowden’s whereabouts remain publicly unknown two days after he landed in Sheremetyevo Airport, missing yesterday’s flight to Havana for which he had booked tickets on OAO Aeroflot.
“We have nothing to do with Mr. Snowden, neither with his relationship to U.S. justice nor to his travel across the world,” Lavrov said. “We consider absolutely groundless and unacceptable attempts that we see to accuse Russia of violating U.S. laws and even of a conspiracy, accompanied by threats toward us. There is no legal justification for this type of behavior by American officials and we have conveyed this to the U.S. side.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said today the U.S. isn’t seeking a “confrontation” with Russia over the issue even as he reiterated American determination to gain custody of Snowden. Kerry made an appeal for “calm and reasonableness,” reacting to what he called a “strong statement” by Lavrov.
“They certainly can allow him to be subject to the laws of our land,” Kerry said of Russia during a joint briefing in Jeddah with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal. “That’s what we call on them to do.”
While Lavrov was accurate in saying there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia, “there are standards of behavior between sovereign nations,” Kerry said.
Speaking in New Delhi yesterday, the top American diplomat urged Russia to abide by the standards of the law by expelling Snowden to the U.S., warning both Russia and China of “consequences” for their actions.
Russia, which has fought American efforts to extradite its citizens around the world, hasn’t responded to U.S. pleas to hand over Snowden a month after he fled and revealed National Security Agency surveillance of Americans and foreign citizens.
Speaking 10 days before Snowden’s flight from Hong Kong, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former colonel in the KGB, said “he told us nothing we didn’t know before” and said he saw nothing objectionable in putting individuals and organizations under lawful surveillance.
“It’s becoming a global phenomenon in the context of combating international terrorism, and such methods are generally called for,” Putin said during an interview with Kremlin-backed RT television channel on June 13, according to the official transcript. “The question is how well they are controlled by the public.”
Snowden’s U.S. passport has been revoked, according to an American official who spoke on condition of anonymity. He faces as many as 10 years in prison on the theft count and 10 years on each of two espionage charges.
Julian Assange, the founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, said Snowden was “healthy and safe.” He declined to give Snowden’s current location on a conference call with reporters yesterday.
Snowden intended to take safe passage through Russia and other nations to Ecuador, Assange said. WikiLeaks legal advisers helped draft Snowden’s asylum request to Ecuador, Assange said, adding it was possible that Snowden had drafted requests for other countries.
The former contractor may be detained by Russian authorities to clear up all circumstances surrounding his arrival in Moscow and determine the legality of his passport, Interfax reported today, citing an unidentified person with knowledge of the matter.
Snowden has a refugee document of passage issued by Ecuador that enabled him to leave Hong Kong, Assange said.