RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has confirmed that a former US spy agency contractor sought by the United States was in the transit area of a Moscow airport but ruled out handing him over to Washington, dismissing US criticisms as “ravings and rubbish”.
In his first public comments since the fugitive flew in on Sunday, Putin yesterday appeared to make light of the affair around Edward Snowden, whose flight from US authorities is becoming an increasing embarassment for president Barack Obama. Asked by a journalist about the affair, he smiled fleetingly.
“I myself would prefer not to deal with these issues. It’s like giving a baby pig a haircut: there’s a lot of squealing, but there’s little wool,” he told a news conference in Finland.
His refusal to hand back Snowden risked deepening a rift with the United States that has also sucked in China.
Putin said the 30-year-old American was in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and, not having gone through passport control, was free to leave.
“The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it would be for us and for himself,” Putin said.
Snowden has applied for asylum in Ecuador but Quito has said it is still considering the application and the United States is trying to persuade the governments of countries where he might head to hand him over. His plans remain unclear.
“He has not crossed the state’s border, and therefore does not need a visa. And any accusations against Russia (of aiding him) are ravings and rubbish,” Putin said in response to a question at a news conference during a visit to Finland.
Washington has gone to great lengths to try to ensure Snowden has nowhere to go to seek refuge. But Putin said Russia had no extradition treaty with the United States and suggested Moscow would expel Snowden only if he were a criminal.
“Thank God, Mr Snowden committed no crimes on the territory of the Russian Federation,” Putin said.
Putin said he hoped relations with the United States would not be affected by the affair but his words seemed to rebuf US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking only hours earlier.
“It is accurate there is not an extradition treaty between Russia and the United states, but there are standards of behaviour between sovereign nations,” Kerry said, in Jeddah.
There has been speculation in the Russian media that Snowden may be talking to Russia’s FSB security service and could be involved in a prisoner swap. Putin said Russian security agencies “never worked with ... Snowden and are not working with him today”.