Edward Snowden is not booked to fly out of Moscow over the next three days, and with no valid passport, the NSA whistleblower might be stuck in airport limbo indefinitely.
The hot pursuit of Snowden has ground to a halt three days after the former CIA technician, wanted in the US on espionage charges, flew into Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport from Hong Kong.
Washington, which wants Snowden for leaking details of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet telephone and Internet surveillance programs, charges that there is a clear legal basis for Moscow to hand him over.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who confirmed that Snowden had arrived in Moscow as a transit passenger despite speculation to the contrary, rebuffed US demands on Tuesday.
“We can only extradite any foreign citizens to such countries with which we have signed the appropriate international agreements on criminal extradition,” Putin said, adding that as Snowden had committed no crime on Russian soil, he is free to travel at will.
“Snowden is a free person. The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it is for him and Russia,” Putin continued.
However, the former NSA contractor appears to be staying put, as neither him nor his WikiLeaks-affiliated legal adviser Sarah Harrison have made travel plans over the coming days.
“They are not flying today and not over the next three days,” an Aeroflot representative at the transfer desk at Sheremetyevo told Reuters.
“They are not in the system.”
Snowden’s stopover in the transit zone at Sheremetyevo could be prolonged indefinitely, as his passport, which was annulled by the US on Saturday, leaves him without the necessary documentation with which to travel, a source reportedly connected with Snowden told Interfax.
“Snowden’s American passport is void and he is not in possession of any other document with which he can prove his identity. For this reason, he has to stay in Sheremetyevo’s transit zone and cannot leave Russia nor buy a ticket,” the source said.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told RT that Snowden had been given special refugee documents by the Ecuadorian government which facilitated his travel to Russia. It is unclear whether he can continue traveling on that document.
However, the group warned via Twitter on Wednesday that “cancelling Snowden’s passport and bullying intermediary countries may keep Snowden permanently in Russia.”
Snowden, who has applied for asylum in Ecuador, was expected to make the next leg of his journey on Monday, as he had booked two tickets to Havana, Cuba. Snowden never showed for the flight, and according to RIA-Novosti, two tickets which he later booked for a Tuesday flight to the Cuban capital were returned just hours before departure. The next flight to Havana leaves on Wednesday.
If he ever makes it to Cuba, the next stop in his journey would be Caracas, Venezuela. President Nicolas Maduro, who coincidentally is expected in Moscow next week for an energy summit, has said Caracas would also consider an asylum request from the whistleblower.
Although dozens of Moscow-based journalists have been staked out at the airport since Sunday, not a single image of Snowden has surfaced.
A receptionist at the Air Express Capsule Hotel in Terminal E of Sheremetyevo Airport told RIA-Novosti that Snowden had in fact spent several hours in one of the suites, “but left a long time ago.”
Several journalists attempted to make contact with Snowden during his stay at the hotel, but were unsuccessful, the hotel employee continued.
It has been speculated that Snowden, who remains at an undisclosed location within the transit zone, is purposely being held up by Russian security services for interrogation.
WikiLeaks has refuted the accusation, saying Harrison “is escorting him at all times.”