Saturday, April 19, 2014
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Light shines through a cabin window on seat 17A, the empty seat that an Aeroflot official said was booked in the name of former CIA technician Edward Snowden, on flight SU150 from Moscow to Havana, Cuba, Monday.
In an apparent reference to claims that Russia could have played a role in Snowden's exit from Hong Kong, Putin said his arrival in Moscow was a "complete surprise" and dismissed such accusations as "ravings and sheer nonsense."
"He doesn't need a visa or any other documents, and as a transit passenger he has the right to buy a ticket and fly wherever he wants," Putin said.
Snowden, 30, is a former CIA employee who later was hired as a contractor for the NSA. In that job, he gained access to documents that he gave to newspapers the Guardian and The Washington Post to expose what he contends are privacy violations by an authoritarian government.
Snowden also told the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong that "the NSA does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cellphone companies to steal all of your SMS data." He is believed to have more than 200 additional sensitive documents in laptops he is carrying.
Russian news media had reported that Snowden remained in a transit zone at the airport, which is separate from regular departure areas. He has not been seen by any of the journalists who have been roaming Sheremetyevo in search of him, furthering speculation that he had been secreted away.
The Interfax news agency, citing an unidentified airport official, said Snowden could be staying in a room in the transit zone normally reserved for flight crews and other personnel.
Legally, an arriving air passenger only crosses the border after clearing Russian immigration checks.
Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected the U.S. push to turn over Snowden, but he wouldn't specify his whereabouts, saying only that he hadn't crossed the Russian border.
Kerry called for "calm and reasonableness."
"We would hope that Russia would not side with someone who is a fugitive from justice," Kerry said at a news conference in Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. has revoked Snowden's passport.
A representative of WikiLeaks has been traveling with Snowden, and the secret-spilling organization is believed to be assisting him in arranging asylum. Assange, the group's founder, 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.
The Kremlin has previously said Russia would be ready to consider Snowden's request for asylum.
Some observers said Snowden's revelations have provided the Kremlin with propaganda arguments to counter the U.S. criticism of Russia's crackdown on opposition and civil activists under Putin.
"They would use Snowden to demonstrate that the U.S. government doesn't sympathize with the ideals of freedom of information, conceals key information from the public and stands ready to open criminal proceedings against those who oppose it," Konstantin Remchukov, the editor of independent daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
Putin has accused the U.S. State Department of instigating protests in Moscow against his re-election for a third term in March and has taken an anti-American posture that plays well with his core support base of industrial workers and state employees.