MOSCOW--Edward Snowden is still in the transit zone of Moscow's international airport, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said Tuesday while strongly implying that Russia would not comply with U.S. requests to return him.
“As a transit passenger he is still in the transit hall [of the airport]," Putin said at a news conference in neighboring Finland, where he was on an official visit. "Our special services have never worked with Mr. Snowden and they are not working [with him] today."
He noted that Russia has no extradition treaty with the United States, and "we can extradite some people only to states with which we have corresponding agreements."
He added: "On the territory of the Russian Federation, Mr. Snowden has committed no crimes, thank God. Mr. Snowden is a free man and the sooner he chooses his final destination the better both for him and for us.”
Snowden, who is wanted by the United States for leaking classified documents while working as a contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency, flew from Hong Kong to Moscow on Sunday and hasn't been seen since. He was presumed to have been en route to Ecuador via Cuba, but he was not seen on a flight from Moscow to Havana on Monday.
With speculation running wild about his whereabouts, including a theory that he might have flown to Minsk, Belarus, Putin appeared to have put an end, for the moment, to that part of the international spy mystery.
In addressing the question of whether Russia should hand Snowden over to U.S. authorities, Putin cited the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted by Sweden in a sex case. Assange has been given asylum inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
“Assange as well as Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and claim that they are struggling for [free] spreading of information,” said the Russian president, who has exerted ruthless control over information and media in Russia. “I am asking myself a question whether such people should be extradited to be put in prison.
“In any case," he added, in a typically colorful aphorism, "I would prefer not to deal in these matters because it is like shearing a pig – lots of screeching but little wool.”
Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia has “nothing to do with either Mr. Snowden or his relations with the U.S. justice or his movements around the world.”
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