x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

US fugitive Snowden's hopes of leaving Moscow airport dashed

Fugitive US spy agency contractor did not have a pass required to exit the transit area, airport source says.

MOSCOW // Fugitive US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden's hopes of leaving Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport for the first time in a month yesterday were dashed when he failed to secure permission from Russia to leave.

An airport source said Snowden, who is wanted by the United States for revealing details of government intelligence programmes, was handed documents by his lawyer which were expected to include a pass to exit the transit area.

But Snowden did not go through passport control and lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, who is assisting him with his request for temporary asylum in Russia until he can reach a state that will shelter him, said the American did not have the pass he needed.

It was not clear whether there had been a last-minute political intervention or hitch, or the pass had never been in his possession.

But Mr Kucherena said he hoped Snowden's status would be resolved soon. In Washington, the White House said it was seeking clarification of Mr Snowden's status.

Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have said they could offer sanctuary to Snowden, who arrived on June 23 from Hong Kong, where he had fled to escape capture and trial in the United States on espionage charges.

But none of the three Latin American countries can be reached by a direct commercial flight so Snowden has requested temporary asylum in Russia until he believes he can safely reach one of them.

The United States wants him extradited to face prosecution and has revoked his passport.

But Russia has refused to send him home and risks damage to relations with the United States if it grants him temporary asylum - a process which could take three months.

President Vladimir Putin signalled last week that he did not want the dispute to derail Russia's relations with the United States, and the decision on temporary asylum could be delayed until after US president Barack Obama visits Moscow for a summit in early September.

Allowing Mr Snowden to stay in Russia even temporarily would upset Washington. It will be Mr Putin's first summit with Mr Obama since the former KGB spy started a new term last year, and precedes a subsequent G20 summit in St Petersburg.

But a refusal would open Mr Putin to criticism at home that he gave into Moscow's former Cold War enemy.