MOSCOW: United States (US) intelligence leaker Edward Snowden prepared to fly out of Russia on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) to seek asylum in Ecuador, as Washington demanded Moscow hand over the fugitive to face espionage charges at home.
Snowden left Hong Kong on a commercial Aeroflot flight on Sunday and is said by Russian officials to have spent the night in a Moscow airport awaiting his onward connection.
Russian security sources said they had no reason to arrest the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, who officials described as an ordinary “transit passenger” who had not crossed the border.
According to Russian state media, he spent the night in the distinctly unglamourous “capsule hotel” Vozdushny Express located inside the departures area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
Snowden, the target of a US arrest warrant issued Friday after the IT contractor leaked details of US cyber-espionage programs to the media, is reportedly booked on a flight to Cuba on Monday from where he could travel on to South America.
Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed that the leftist Latin American country, whose embassy in London is already sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was analysing Snowden’s asylum request.
“We will make a decision . . . we are analysing it,” Patino told reporters on Monday in Hanoi when asked about the high-profile asylum request.
“We know he is in Moscow, we’re in talks with higher authorities,” Patino.
Ecuador’s outspoken leftist President Rafael Correa has championed the cause of Assange and his allies to the fury of the United States.
Sources within Aeroflot had said on Sunday (Monday in Manila) Snowden would fly onwards to Cuba on Monday (Tuesday in Manila). The flight SU 150 to Havana with Russian carrier Aeroflot is due to depart Sheremetyevo at 10:05 a.m. Manila time.
Part of the flight to Havana will pass through oceanic airspace that is controlled by New York air traffic center, a source told ITAR-TASS news agency, though it wasn’t clear whether US authorities would be able to somehow ground the plane.
The State Department had revoked Snowden’s passport and, and ordered other countries to prevent him from traveling. However a source in Russia’s security agencies told Interfax that Snowden could travel without a passport once he is granted asylum.
The White House on Monday urged Moscow to cooperate in bringing Snowden under US custody, citing prior “intensified cooperation” between security services of the two countries, including on the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings.
“We expect the Russian government to look at all options available to expel Mr. Snowden back to the US to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged,” National Security Spokesman Caitlin Hayden said.
“We have registered our strong objections to the authorities in Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels and noted that such behaviour is detrimental to US-Hong Kong and US-China bilateral relations,” she added.