Russia’s President Vladimir Putin confirms that US whistleblower Edward Snowden is in transit in Russia, but is free to leave and will not be extradited to the US.
President Putin dismissed claims that Russian security services are working with Snowden as “ravings and rubbish”.
He said he hoped the affair would not hurt relations with the US, which wants Russia to send Mr Snowden to the US.
The president told a news conference during a visit to Finland that Mr Snowden was still in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremyetevo airport.
Mr Snowdon, who exposed the so-called NSA files detailing the US and UK governments’ widespread surveillance of internet data, was thought to have flown from Hong Kong to Moscow on Sunday. He was expected to fly from there to Ecuador, where he has applied for political asylum.
But he was not on the flight when it touched down in Cuba.
Mr Putin said Mr Snowden was free to leave Moscow, indicating that Russia would not extradite him.
He said: “We can only hand over foreign citizens to countries with which we have an appropriate international agreement on the extradition of criminals.”
“Mr Snowden is a free person,” Mr Putin said of the 30-year-old American, who is being aided by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. “The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it would be for us and for himself.”
The US state department said dipolomats and Justice Department officials were talking to Russian officials, suggesting they are seeking to secure Mr Snowden’s return to the US to face espionage charges.
Meanwhile, China’s top state newspaper has praised Mr Snowden for “tearing off Washington’s sanctimonious mask” but denied aiding his escape from the US.