Putin says Snowden in Moscow as Russia rejects U.S. demands

June 3, 2014

Edward Snowden won’t be extradited to the United States and remains in the transit zone of a Moscow airport two days after the former security contractor arrived from Hong Kong, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.

Russia was “completely surprised” by Snowden’s arrival and can’t hand him over to the United States because the two nations don’t have an extradition treaty, Putin told reporters near Turku, Finland. The country’s security agencies “didn’t work and aren’t working” with Snowden and any accusations against Russia are “drivel and nonsense,” he said.

Russia has refused to assist in attempts to apprehend Snowden as U.S. intelligence agencies mount an investigation into a possible role by China in his leaks. Snowden, who arrived in the Russian capital on a commercial flight on June 23, chose his route independently, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow Tuesday, adding there’s “no legal justification” for U.S. demands to extradite him.

The disclosure ends the speculation over Snowden’s whereabouts after he missed yesterday’s flight to Havana for which he had booked tickets on Aeroflot. Putin has tried to douse a diplomatic showdown with the U.S. after Secretary of State John Kerry Monday warned Russia and China of “consequences” for their actions.

“I hope it won’t affect the business-like nature of our relations with the U.S.,” Putin said. “I hope our partners will understand.”

Kerry said Tuesday the U.S. isn’t seeking a “confrontation” with Russia over the issue even as he reiterated U.S. 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 there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia, “there are standards of behavior between sovereign nations,” Kerry said.

Putin, who has disagreed with the Obama administration on its handling of the Syrian conflict and plans to develop a missile-defense shield in Europe, tried to distance himself from the case, saying the heads of the countries’ securities agencies, the FBI and the FSB, should steer the process.

“Personally I’d prefer to keep out of such questions,” he said. “It’s like shearing a piglet: all squealing and no wool.”

Russia, which has fought U.S. efforts to extradite its citizens around the world, is spurning U.S. pleas to hand over Snowden a month after he fled and revealed National Security Agency surveillance of U.S. and foreign citizens. The fugitive whistleblower arrived as a transit passenger and needed no visa, Putin said.

“He is a free man, and the sooner he selects his final destination, the better it will be both for us and for him,” Putin said. “As a transit passenger, he has the right to buy a ticket and fly wherever he wants. At the same time, he is not crossing the state border, which is why he doesn’t need a visa.”

Snowden’s U.S. passport has been revoked, according to a U.S. 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 intended to take safe passage through Russia and other nations to Ecuador, Assange said on a conference call with reporters yesterday. 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.

Snowden has a refugee document of passage issued by Ecuador that enabled him to leave Hong Kong, according to Assange.

© 2013, Bloomberg News

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