Russian President Vladimir Putin is continuing to thumb his nose at U.S. authorities over Edward Snowden, the former spy agency contractor who leaked information about the U.S. government’s sweeping surveillance program and is believed to be in Moscow.
On a trip to Finland Tuesday, Putin told reporters that Snowden is still in the transit area of Moscow’s airport, and thus technically not on Russian soil. The Russian leader also said Russian law enforcement has no basis to arrest or extradite him to the United States, contending he is a “free man,” though he pressed Snowden to choose a final destination soon.
The statements from the Russian president defiantly rejected U.S. requests for cooperation in nabbing Snowden but were far more tempered than Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments. At a news conference Tuesday, Lavrov angrily lashed out at U.S. officials who demanded Russia hand over Snowden or face diplomatic consequences, saying American attempts to blame his country for harboring him are “groundless and unacceptable.”
Snowden, Lavrov said, did not cross the Russian border, a suggestion that the fugitive never left the transit area of Sheremetyevo Airport, and because of this, was in diplomatic limbo.
“There is no lawful basis for this kind of behavior from American officials,” he said.
Lavrov was responding to harsh words from Secretary of State John Kerry who demanded Russia turn him over to U.S. authorities.
“I think it’s very important to them to adhere to the rule of law and respect the relationship,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took the opportunity to publicly upbraid Putin in demeaning terms, calling him an “old KGB colonel apparatchik that dreams of the days of the Russian empire.”
Kerry has since toned down his rhetoric to try to preserve the line of communication with his Russian counterpart. Speaking at a press conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, he said there was no need to raise the level of confrontation with Russia over Snowden, noting that he hoped Russia would not end up siding with a U.S. citizen who is on the lam.