Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Tuesday
that US whistleblower Edward Snowden is at Moscow's Sheremetyevo
airport, ending three days of speculation as to his whereabouts.
"Snowden still is in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo," Putin said at a press conference in Finland.
Putin rejected US demands to hand over Snowden, arguing that Moscow has no extradition agreement with Washington and that Snowden has not committed any crimes on Russian soil.
He added that as a transit passenger, Snowden needs no visa because he has not formally entered Russia and is free to buy a ticket to whereever he wants.
"Snowden is a free man. The earlier he chooses his next destination, the better for us and for him," Putin said.
The former intelligence contractor who exposed details of US online spying activities arrived in Moscow on Sunday on a flight from Hong Kong. He apparently left the Chinese city just after the US sought his extradition and revoked his passport.
He has applied for asylum in Ecuador.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in Saudi Arabia, warned of consequences to US-Russia ties, saying he hoped Moscow would "implement law" and not allow its interests to be hurt by "a fugitive from justice."
He had said earlier that it would be "deeply troubling" if either China or Russia had known about Snowden's travel plans from Hong Kong.
Putin said that any such accusations against Russia were "drivel and nonsense" and that Moscow had not known about the fugitive's arrival. "For us this was totally unexpected," he said.
He added that he hopes that the incident does not negatively affect Russia's "business-like" relations with the United States.
He suggested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Russia's Federal Security Service seek a solution. "Let Mr Mueller and Mr Bortnikov work on a solution," he said with reference to FBI director Robert Mueller and FSB head Alexander Bortnikov.
Putin also denied speculation that Russian intelligence was seeking to interview Snowden. "Our special services have never worked with Mr Snowden and do not work with him today," he said.
An ABC News report said that Snowden was "a dream for foreign intelligence services," because he had access to a US government computer server "which contained ridiculous amounts of information."
Putin's comments ended days of uncertainty about Snowden's location. He has not been seen in public since arriving in the Russian capital, despite dozens of reporters lingering at Sheremetyevo airport.
On Monday, more than 20 journalists boarded a flight to Cuba, after reports that Snowden would fly to Havana and then to Ecuador.
But Snowden failed to appear both on that flight and on the next flight to Havana on Tuesday, Russian media reported.
Russian analysts speculated that Washington might force a passenger jet with Snowden on board to land in the US.
Lina Taltseva, an aviation lawyer, told the RIA Novosti news agency that such a move was legal under the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. As an example she pointed to the case of a Syrian passenger liner in October, which was forced by Turkish jets to land in Ankara because it carried military equipment for the Syrian government.
However, Alexei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center said that this was unlikely to happen in Snowden's case. "Otherwise, the US would create a dangerous precedent," he said.
Snowden told the China Morning Post in an interview published Tuesday that he had applied to work with security contractor Booz Allen Hamilton to allow him access to secret data on the US government's cyber spying programme.
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SEPTEMBER 2, 2014
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