Russia yesterday defied White House pressure to expel former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden to the US before he flees Moscow on the next stop of his globe-crossing escape from US prosecution.
Snowden, whose exposure of secret US government surveillance raised questions about intrusions into private lives, was allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday after Washington asked the territory to arrest him on espionage charges.
The 29-year-old flew to Moscow as a transit stop before heading elsewhere, several sources said. However, reports he would fly to Cuba were put in doubt when witnesses could not see him on the plane, despite heightened security before take-off.
Ecuador said it was considering Snowden’s request for asylum. There is no direct flight to Quito from Moscow.
“He didn’t take the flight [to Havana],” a source at Russia’s national airline Aeroflot said.
A source at Aeroflot on Sunday said Snowden was booked on a flight to Havana yesterday at 2:05pm, but a correspondent aboard could not see him and what was supposed to be his seat was taken by another passenger.
As speculation mounted about where he would go next — Ecuador, Venezuela or Havana at a later date to escape the crowd of journalists on board yesterday’s flight — Washington was stung by Russian defiance.
Snowden’s flight to Russia, which like China challenges US dominance of global diplomacy, is an embarrassment to US President Barack Obama, who has tried to “reset” ties with Moscow and build a partnership with Beijing.
The White House said it expected the Russian government to send Snowden back to the US and lodged “strong objections” to Hong Kong and China for letting him go.
However, the Russian government ignored the appeal and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary denied any knowledge of Snowden’s movements.
“Overall, we have no information about him,” Dmitri Peskov said.
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, on a trip to Vietnam, told a news conference in Hanoi that his government was considering a US request related to Snowden and would take a decision in due time.
“We will consider the position of the US government and we will take a decision in due course in line with the [Ecuadorean] constitution, the laws, international politics and sovereignty,” Patino said.