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Tags: russia | china | reject | snowden

Russia, China Reject U.S. Pressure over Snowden

Tuesday, 25 June 2013 08:08 AM EDT

China and Russia rejected U.S. accusations they helped a former U.S. spy agency contractor escape prosecution in the United States, deepening a rift between powers whose cooperation may be essential in settling global conflicts including the Syrian war.

Edward Snowden, charged with disclosing secret U.S. surveillance programmes, left Hong Kong for Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday. The U.S. State Department said diplomats and Justice Department officials were holding discussions with Russia, suggesting they were looking for a deal to secure his return to face espionage charges.

An airport source said the 30-year-old American, who has asked for asylum in Ecuador, had flown in on Sunday and had been booked on a flight to Cuba on Monday but had not got on board.

Journalists camped out at the airport have not spotted him inside, or leaving, the transit area, and say a heavy security presence has been relaxed for the past 24 hours. He has not registered at a hotel in the transit zone, hotel sources say.

A receptionist at the Capsule Hotel "Air Express", a complex of 47 basic rooms decorated predominantly with grey carpets and grey walls, said Snowden had turned up on Sunday, looked at the price list but then left.

U.S. officials admonished Beijing and Moscow on Monday for allowing Snowden to escape their clutches but the United States' partners on the U.N. Security Council, already at odds with Washington over the conflict in Syria, hit back indignantly.

"The United States' criticism of China's central government is baseless. China absolutely cannot accept it," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing, also dismissing U.S. criticism of Hong Kong, a Chinese territory, for letting Snowden leave.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied suggestions Moscow had helped Snowden in any way, including by allowing him to fly into Sheremetyevo.

"He chose his itinerary on his own. We learnt about it ... from the media. He has not crossed the Russian border," he said.

"We consider the attempts to accuse the Russian side of violating U.S. laws, and practically of involvement in a plot, to be absolutely groundless and unacceptable."

Lavrov's insistence Snowden had not entered Russia implies he has not left the airport transit area, used by passengers flying from one non-Russian airport to another without going through passport control or requiring an entry visa.

The transit area is Russian sovereign territory, but it could be argued that in staying there Snowden had not formally entered the country - a move that could implicate President Vladimir Putin in helping a fugitive.

Interfax news agency quoted a source "in the Russian capital" as saying Snowden could be detained to check the validity of his passport if he crossed the Russian border.

Snowden is travelling on a refugee document of passage provided by Ecuador, the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said.

Putin is not shy of celebrating people who challenge Washington, but has an interest in keeping relations with the United States on track as both sides try to improve security cooperation and arrange a peace conference on Syria.



Jay Carney, a spokesman for the White House, said it was Washington's assumption that Snowden was still in Russia.

Snowden, whose exposure of the surveillance raised questions about civil liberties in the United States, flew to Moscow after being allowed to leave Hong Kong even though Washington had asked the Chinese territory to detain him.

Snowden, until recently a contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency, had been expected to fly to Havana from Moscow on Monday and eventually go on to Ecuador, according to sources at the Russian airline Aeroflot.

There is no direct flight from Moscow to Quito, which has said it was considering Snowden's asylum request.

Ecuador, like Cuba and Venezuela, is a member of the ALBA bloc, an alliance of leftist governments in Latin America that pride themselves on their "anti-imperialist" credentials. The Quito government has been sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its London embassy for the past year.

The airport source confirmed Snowden was travelling with Sarah Harrison, a legal researcher working for WikiLeaks.

"She (Harrison) came together with Edward Snowden from Hong-Kong on June 23 around 5 p.m.," the source said. "He had a ticket to go to Havana on the 24th, but he did not use it. She also had one, but she didn't use it either."



With Snowden's whereabouts a mystery, U.S. President Barack Obama, may face prolonged embarrassment from a young man leading the world's lone superpower on a global game of hide and seek.

Obama told reporters his government was "following all the appropriate legal channels working with various other countries to make sure the rule of law is observed".

But U.S. officials said intelligence agencies were concerned that they did not know how much sensitive material Snowden had in his possession and that he may have taken more documents than initially estimated.

He could publish more documents or they could get into the hands of foreign intelligence. The Kremlin denies knowledge of any contacts between Russian officials and Snowden, despite media speculation the security forces could be questioning him.

Carney said his escape would damage U.S.-China relations and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Snowden's activities could threaten the security of China and the United States.

"People may die as a consequence to what this man did," he told CNN. But to his supporters, Snowden is a whistle blowing hero who exposed the extent of U.S. surveillance activities.

© 2023 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

China and Russia rejected U.S. accusations they helped a former U.S. spy agency contractor escape prosecution in the United States, deepening a rift between powers whose cooperation may be essential in settling global conflicts including the Syrian war. Edward Snowden,...
Tuesday, 25 June 2013 08:08 AM
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