Russia said fugitive US whistle blower Edward Snowden was free to leave the Moscow airport where he has been holed up for the last five days but confusion reigned on Thursday over whether he had the appropriate documents allowing him to travel.
Snowden, who is wanted by the US authorities for leaking sensational details of US surveillance to the media, is said by the Kremlin to have been at the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport since arriving on a flight from Hong Kong Sunday. But since yesterday there has not been a single sighting of Snowden at the airport and his onward travel plans remain an enigma after he failed to board a flight on which he was booked to Havana on Monday.
“He has not violated Russian law, he has not crossed the border, he is in the transit zone of the airport and can fly anywhere that he wants,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Echoing comments by President Vladimir Putin indicating that Moscow is keen to see the back of its unexpected visitor, Lavrov added: “The sooner this (he flies onwards) happens, the better”.
The United States has told Russia that it has a clear legal basis to expel Snowden but Putin has flatly rejected the idea, saying Moscow has no extradition treaty with Washington.
But according to the White House, the two sides are in contact over the former National Security Agency (NSA) technician.
‘No wheeling dealing for Snowden’
US President Barack Obama indicated that he would not spend much geopolitical capital to make the former National Security Agency contractor stand trial in the United States.
Obama said on Thursday he would not engage in “wheeling and dealing” to persuade foreign governments — principally Russia — to return Snowden to America.
“I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” Obama said, according to a tweet from the Washington Post’s David Nakamura.