MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's foreign minister bluntly rejected U.S. demands to extradite National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, saying Tuesday that Snowden hasn't crossed the Russian border.
Sergey Lavrov insisted that Russia has nothing to do with Snowden or his travel plans. Lavrov wouldn't say where Snowden is, but he lashed out angrily at Washington for demanding his extradition and warning of negative consequences if Moscow fails to comply. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday urged Moscow to “do the right thing” and turn over Snowden.
“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 said. “There are no legal grounds for such conduct of U.S. officials.”
The defiant tone underlined the Kremlin's readiness to challenge Washington at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are strained over Syria and a Russian ban on adoptions by Americans.
U.S. and Ecuadorean officials said they believed Snowden was still in Russia. He fled there Sunday from Hong Kong, where he had been hiding out since his disclosure of the broad scope of two highly classified U.S. counterterror surveillance programs. 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 found out about Snowden's flight from Hong Kong only from news reports.
“We have no relation to Mr. Snowden, his relations with American justice or his travels 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 board the plane. Russian news media have reported that he has remained in a transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, but journalists there haven't seen him.
A representative of WikiLeaks has been traveling with Snowden, and the organization is believed to be assisting him in arranging asylum. The organization's founder, Julian Assange, said Monday that Snowden was only passing through Russia and had applied for asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and possibly other countries.
A high-ranking Ecuadorean official told The Associated Press that Russia and Ecuador were discussing where Snowden could go, saying the process could take days. He also said Ecuador's ambassador to Moscow had not seen or spoken to Snowden. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, hailed Snowden on Monday as “a man attempting to bring light and transparency to facts that affect everyone's fundamental liberties.”
He described the decision on whether to grant Snowden asylum as a choice between “betraying the citizens of the world or betraying certain powerful elites in a specific country.”
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