MOSCOW — Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who spilled U.S. surveillance secrets to the world, is a “free man” biding his time in a Moscow airport, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters Tuesday in Finland.
Putin said that Snowden, who flew to Moscow from Hong Kong on Sunday, remains in the “transit area” of Sheremetyevo International Airport — the zone between arrival gates and Russia’s passport control checkpoints. And while he said Russia won’t hand Snowden over to the United States, he seemed eager to have the focus of international intrigue off his hands.
“The sooner he selects his final destination point, the better both for us and for himself,” Putin said of Snowden, who is wanted by U.S. officials on espionage charges for disclosing classified details of U.S. surveillance programs.
Putin’s confirmation ends, for now at least, the international pastime of “Where’s Snowden?” and speculation that the former CIA worker and National Security Agency contractor had perhaps duped the world into thinking he was in Moscow to throw pursuers off his trail as he seeks a safe haven from U.S. prosecution.
Noting the United States and Russia do not have an extradition agreement, Putin said Snowden can’t be turned over to U.S. authorities and has committed no crimes on Russian soil.
But he also said Russian security forces have not been “working with” Snowden and expressed hope that the incident would not “affect the cordial nature of our relations with the U.S.”
A senior Obama administration official called Putin’s comments “potentially positive” while reiterating hopes that Snowden would be expelled from Russia and returned to the United States.
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