Edward Snowden, the fugitive American intelligence leaker, missed another plane to Havana Thursday. As an overnight stopover in Moscow drags on, Snowden’s stay is taking a toll on the U.S.-Russia relationship.
President Obama took time out on a trip to Africa to prod the Kremlin to turn over Snowden.
“My continued expectation is that Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr. Snowden asylum recognize that they are part of an international community, and that they should be abiding by international law,” Obama told reporters in Senegal.
Separately, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters in Washington: “I would hope that the Russians do the right thing here and turn Snowden over to the United States. He has broken laws and I think, as far as I know, the decision of the Russian Government, at least a final decision, hasn’t been made yet.”
American congressmen have come out with a series of statements sharply critical of the Kremlin.
“Snowden has overstayed his welcome at the Moscow airport,” Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said Thursday. “I call on the Russian government, in the interest of justice, as well as U.S.-Russian relations, to release him into the custody of the U.S. government today.”
“For political reasons it is impossible for both China and Russia to extradite him to the United States,” said Fyodor Lyukanov, who edits Russia in Global Affairs magazine. “That will make enormous damage to their reputations because at least half of the world believes Snowden is a hero because he revealed this big brother practice of the state.”
American intelligence experts worry that Russian officials have copied the memories of the four laptops that Snowden brought with him.
Russian President Vladimir Putin rejects U.S. pressure over Snowden.
“He’s in the transit hall as a transit passenger now,” President Putin said on a visit to Finland Wednesday. “Our special services have never worked with Mr. Snowden and aren’t working today.”
In Hong Kong, Snowden told journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras with The Guardian newspaper he rejects accusations that he leaked America’s secrets to help foreign powers.
“Anyone in the position of access with the technical capability that I had could suck out secrets and pass them on the open market to Russia,” Snowden said in a videotaped interview. “They always have an open door, as we do.”
The longer Snowden stays in Russia, the more he is winning conservative support in the country. Russian lawmakers and some human rights leaders now want the Kremlin to grant Snowden asylum. One Russian senator, Ruslan Gattarov, invited Snowden to address a parliamentary working group set up to explore allegations of American wiretapping of Russian citizens.
President Putin says he will not extradite Snowden to the United States. But he wants the fugitive to keep moving. “Mr. Snowden is a free man,” he said in Finland. “The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it would be for us and for himself.”
If Snowden keeps missing flights to Havana, a new solution could be on the horizon.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said that he is considering granting Snowden asylum. Next week, President Maduro is to fly to Moscow in Venezuela’s presidential jet, an Airbus, to attend a conference of gas-producing nations.
In the roomy jet, he could bring along two other left-leaning leaders of South American gas-producing nations, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. Ecuador has said it is reviewing an asylum request from Snowden.
Conceivably, Snowden could fly directly from Moscow to Caracas with this high level entourage. Perhaps aware of this possibility, President Obama promised not to take extraordinary measures.
“No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” he said, referring to Snowden who turned 30 last week in Hong Kong..