MOSCOW -- American secrets-leaker Edward Snowden ended up in Moscow accidentally, after Cuba, under U.S. pressure, blocked entry to the former National Security Agency analyst, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported, citing unnamed Russian and Western government sources.
“His choice of itinerary and his request for help were an absolute surprise for us. We did not invite him,” a Russian official told the newspaper.
However, Western countries suspect that the Russians asked Snowden to come to their consulate in Hong Kong, where he was hiding from U.S. authorities after leaking information about the NSA’s widespread spying. The Russians sent an invitation through the Chinese, “who were glad to get rid of him,” a Western source told Kommersant.
While Snowden contacted the Russian government in Hong Kong before getting on the Aeroflot flight to Moscow, Moscow was not his planned final destination, Russian government sources told the newspaper.
Snowden was supposed to fly to Havana after a 22-hour layover in Moscow, and connect to either Bolivia or Ecuador. However, he did not board the flight, to the chagrin of nearly the entire Moscow press corps who found his reserved seat 17A empty.
The United States pressured Cuba to prohibit the flight from landing if Snowden was on board, several sources told the newspaper. Cuba was one of the countries that the United States threatened with “unfavorable consequences” if it accepted Snowden, a source close to the State Department was quoted as saying by Kommersant.
A Russian official told Kommersant that before flying to Moscow, Snowden spent two days at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong. Snowden told the Russians that he planned to ask for political asylum in a Latin American country and presented a ticket to Havana, with a 22-hour layover in Moscow, dated June 23. He said that his life was in danger and asked for help, citing international conventions for refugees.
Snowden also celebrated his 30th birthday at the Russian consulate on June 21, according to an unnamed source close to the NSA leaker.
Russian officials would not comment publicly about the issues raised in the Kommersant piece.
Narizhnaya is a special correspondent.