Moscow: Russia's foreign minister on Tuesday bluntly rejected US demands to extradite National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who has apparently stopped in Moscow while trying to evade US justice, saying that Snowden hasn't crossed the Russian border.
Sergey Lavrov insisted that Russia has nothing to do with him or his travel plans. Lavrov wouldn't say where Snowden is, but he angrily lashed out at the US for demanding his extradition and warnings of negative consequences if Moscow fails to comply.
"We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violation of US laws and even some sort of conspiracy, which on top of all that are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable," Lavrov said.
"There are no legal grounds for such conduct of US officials, and we proceed from that."
US and Ecuadorean officials said they believed Snowden was still in Russia, where he fled Sunday after weeks of hiding out in Hong Kong following his disclosure of the broad scope of two highly classified counterterror surveillance programs to two newspapers. The programs collect vast amounts of Americans' phone records and worldwide online data in the name of national security.
Lavrov claimed that the Russian government has only found out about Snowden's flight from Hong Kong from news reports. "We have no relation to Mr. Snowden, his relations with the American justice or his travel around the world," Lavrov said. "He chooses his route himself, and we have learned about it from the media."
Snowden booked a seat on a Havana-bound flight from Moscow on Monday en route to Venezuela and then possible asylum in Ecuador, but he didn't show up on the plane. Russian news reports said he has remained at a transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, but he hasn't been seen there by the media.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has embraced Snowden and WikiLeaks experts are believed to be assisting him in arranging asylum.
Assange on Monday declined to discuss where Snowden was but said he was only passing through Russia and had applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries.
Ecuador's foreign minister hailed Snowden yesterday as "a man attempting to bring light and transparency to facts that affect everyone's fundamental liberties."
The decision whether to grant Snowden the asylum he has requested is a choice between "betraying the citizens of the world or betraying certain powerful elites in a specific country," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters while visiting Vietnam.