Jun 25, 2013 6:14 AM by Vladimir Isachenkov
MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's foreign minister on Tuesday bluntly rejected U.S. demands to extradite National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who has apparently stopped in Moscow while trying to evade U.S. justice, saying that Snowden hasn't crossed the Russian border.
Sergey Lavrov insisted that Russia has nothing to do with him or his travel plans. Lavrov wouldn't say where Snowden is, but he angrily lashed out at the U.S. for demanding his extradition and warnings of negative consequences if Moscow fails to comply.
"We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violation of U.S. laws and even some sort of conspiracy, which on top of all that are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable," Lavrov said. "There are no legal grounds for such conduct of U.S. officials, and we proceed from that."
U.S and Ecuadorean officials said they believed Snowden was still in Russia, where he fled Sunday after weeks of hiding out in Hong Kong following his disclosure of the broad scope of two highly classified counterterror surveillance programs to two newspapers. The programs collect vast amounts of Americans' phone records and worldwide online data in the name of national security.
Lavrov claimed that the Russian government has only found out about Snowden's flight from Hong Kong from news reports.
"We have no relation to Mr. Snowden, his relations with the American justice or his travel around the world," Lavrov said. "He chooses his route himself, and we have learned about it from the media."
Snowden booked a seat on a Havana-bound flight from Moscow Monday en route to Venezuela and then possible asylum in Ecuador, but he didn't show up on the plane. Russian news reports said he has remained at a transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, but he hasn't been seen there by the media.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has embraced Snowden and WikiLeaks experts are believed to be assisting him in arranging asylum.
Assange on Monday declined to discuss where Snowden was but said he was only passing through Russia and had applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries.
Ecuador's foreign minister hailed Snowden on Monday as "a man attempting to bring light and transparency to facts that affect everyone's fundamental liberties."
The decision whether to grant Snowden the asylum he has requested is a choice between "betraying the citizens of the world or betraying certain powerful elites in a specific country," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters while visiting Vietnam. He said Tuesday that he didn't know Snowden's exact whereabouts.
A high-ranking Ecuadorean official told The Associated Press that Russia and Ecuador were discussing where Snowden could go, and 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.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. had made demands to "a series of governments," including Ecuador, that Snowden be barred from any international travel other than to be returned to the U.S. The U.S. has revoked Snowden's passport.
Secretary of State John Kerry urged Moscow to "do the right thing" and turn over Snowden.
"We're following all the appropriate legal channels and working with various other countries to make sure that the rule of law is observed," President Barack Obama told reporters when asked if he was confident that Russia would expel Snowden.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. was expecting the Russians "to look at the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged."
Some experts said it was likely the Russian spy agencies were questioning Snowden on what he knew about U.S. electronic espionage against Moscow.
"If Russian special services hadn't shown interest in Snowden, they would have been utterly unprofessional," Igor Korotchenko, a former colonel in Russia's top military command turned security analyst, said on state Rossiya 24 television.
The Kremlin has previously said Russia would be ready to consider Snowden's request for asylum.
Snowden 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 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 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.