It looks like Edward Snowden isn’t coming back to the U.S. anytime soon.
The former National Security Agency contractor, who revealed two of the country’s top secret surveillance programs, is in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and will not be extradited back to the U.S., said Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin, speaking at a news conference in Finland on Tuesday, said Snowden had not left Russia and that he was free to leave. He added that Snowden arrived as a transit passenger and had made no arrangements with the country over his future.
The U.S. and Russia do not have an extradition treaty, and the remarks by Putin are likely to reignite old tension between these two world powers.
In regards to handing Snowden over to American authorities, Putin said “We can hand over foreign nationals only to a country with which we have an agreement about handing over criminals. We do not have an agreement with the United States.”
Putin’s confirmation that the former CIA employee is in Russia caps a two-day frenzy of ‘Where in the world is Snowden’ after he didn’t board a flight from Moscow to Cuba on Monday.
The 30-year-old American—charged with espionage—had been holed up in Hong Kong after blowing the lid on the government’s snooping programs earlier this month. He flew to Moscow on Sunday and was supposed to go to Cuba on Monday—likely en route to Ecuador. He did not, however, board the flight. Snowden has applied for asylum in the Latin American country and the country’s foreign minister there has said the country will consider the request. Snowden has been in close contact with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, who himself was granted asylum by Ecuador last year.
Russia’s seeming snub to the U.S. comes on the heels of Hong Kong refusing to comply with U.S. officials asking the government there to issue a provisional arrest warrant to nab Snowden. Hong Kong officials refused, arguing that the paperwork the U.S. submitted did not “fully comply with the legal requirements” needed to keep the North Carolina native from leaving the country.
The White House on Tuesday said Russia has a “clear legal basis” to expel Snowden. “While we do not have an extradition treaty with Russia, there is nonetheless a clear legal basis to expel Mr. Snowden based on the status of his travel documents and the pending charges against him,” said National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement. “We are asking the Russian government to take action to expel Mr. Snowden without delay,” Hayden added.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday had called on Russia to “do the right thing” and return Snowden to the United States. “We think it is very important in terms of our relationship. We think it is very important in terms of rule of law.”
He also remarked on the irony of the countries Snowden is relying on in his quest to evade justice.
“I wonder if Mr. Snowden chose China and Russia assistance in his flight form justice because they’re such powerful bastions of internet freedoms,” Kerry said sarcastically during his trip to New Delhi. “And I wonder while he was in either of those countries did he raise the questions of internet freedom since that seems to be what he champions.”
Some, including Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, are heralding Snowden as a hero. An online petition on Whitehouse.gov asking the Obama Administration to pardon Snowden has more than 117,000 signatures.
Michael Isikoff, NBC News’ national investigative correspondent, told msnbc that Snowden’s options may be more limited than what most people think. Isikoff pointed to Putin saying on Tuesday that he expects Snowden to leave the country soon. The Russian leader seems to be saying “we’re not going to let him stay in this transit zone forever,” said Isikoff.