Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Tuesday angrily dismissed U.S. demands that his government hand over National Security Agency leaker Edward J. Snowden, missing since he skipped a flight to Cuba Monday and sought refuge at a Moscow airport.
"We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violation of U.S. laws and even some sort of conspiracy, which on top of all that are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable," Lavrov told a press conference in Moscow, The Associated Press reported.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin confirmed Tuesday that Snowden has been staying at the airport.
On Monday, U.S. officials chastised China for allowing Mr. Snowden to leave Hong Kong over the weekend, despite a pending extradition request and the revocation of his passport. They also said they “expected” Russian authorities to put Mr. Snowden on a plane to the United States, threatening unspecified “consequences” if they failed to comply.
"There are no legal grounds for such conduct of U.S. officials, and we proceed from that,” the Russian foreign minister said Tuesday.
He said that Mr. Snowden, who arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport from Hong Kong Sunday, had remained in transit and not formally entered the country.
"We are in no way involved with either Mr Snowden, his relations with U.S. justice, nor to his movements around the world," Mr Lavrov said.
Last month, Mr. Snowden fled the NSA facility in Hawaii where worked as a computer technician, carrying with him a cache of Top Secret documents about NSA surveillance programs, several of which have since been posted online by the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers.
He was secretly indicted on charges under the 1917 Espionage Act June 14, and the indictment was unsealed Friday.
Some U.S. lawmakers and officials have called Mr. Snowden a traitor, leading to claims that he will find it hard to get a fair trial, and some have even suggested he might be a spy for Russia or China. Those charges are flatly denied by Mr. Snowden and his supporters -- and by Mr. Lavrov Tuesday.
"He chose his itinerary on his own. We learned about it... from the media. He has not crossed the Russian border,” he said.
Officials from the United States and Ecuador, where Mr. Snowden has applied for political asylum and which is thought to be his ultimate destination, said Monday they believed Mr. Snowden remained in Russia.
Also Tuesday, state media in China angrily rejected U.S. claims that China had deliberately allowed Mr. Snowden to leave the quasi-autonomous island city-state of Hong Kong in the face of legal requests for his arrest and extradition from the United States.
In a front-page commentary, the overseas edition of the Chinese Communist Party’s official organ, The People's Daily, praised Mr. Snowden for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask,” by exposing their dragnet-style data-collection programs, the BBC reported.
“Not only did the U.S. authorities not give us an explanation and apology, it instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for handling things in accordance with law,” the commentary stated.
"In a sense, the United States has gone from a 'model of human rights' to 'an eavesdropper on personal privacy', the 'manipulator' of the centralised power over the international internet, and the mad 'invader' of other countries' networks,” concluded The people’s Daily.
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