international intrigue

Russia Gives Defiant Shrug Over the Edward Snowden Chase [Updated]

Twenty-four hours after he bailed on a flight to Havana, we still don’t know where Edward Snowden is hiding. In what’s become an increasingly frustrating and fruitless manhunt for the United States, China and Russia are having a grand old time watching their frenemy scramble while denying any culpability in Snowden’s escape. “He didn’t cross the Russian border and we consider the attempts we are seeing to accuse the Russian side of violating United States law as completely ungrounded and unacceptable, or nearly a conspiracy accompanied by threats against us,” said Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov today. “There are no legal grounds for this kind of behavior from American officials toward us.” But he might as well have crossed his fingers behind his back.

As the Times notes, patiently, the “assertion that Mr. Snowden had not crossed the Russian border would technically be true if he remained in the transit area of the airport, where he would not have needed a Russian visa and would not have been required to go through passport control.” Which would make Snowden like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, and probably smelly.

Separately, the paper explains that the standoff, built on tense technicalities, is not what President Obama had in mind when he called for “a constructive cooperative relationship that moves us out of a cold war mind-set” with Russia. Instead, according to one expert, Russia might not be able to help itself with Snowden so close: “The guy is supposedly carrying four laptops, plus a bunch of thumb drives, supposedly knows all sorts of other things … You don’t pass up an opportunity like that. You don’t just let him pass through the business lounge, on the way to Cuba.” He compares it to the Karate Kid: “It’s like Mr. Miyagi at the cash register, and when a fly comes by they reach up and grab it.”

China, too, is asserting innocence, although Snowden’s own lawyer implied that his client was allowed to leave Hong Kong and fly to Moscow, likely en route to Ecuador, where Snowden has applied for asylum. “The U.S. side has no reason to call into question the Hong Kong government’s handling of affairs according to law,” said China’s foreign minister. “The United States’ criticism of China’s central government is baseless. China absolutely cannot accept it.”

Secretary of State John Kerry is basically fuming: “I wonder if Mr. Snowden chose China and Russia as assistants in his flight from justice because they’re such powerful bastions of Internet freedom,” he quipped yesterday. But up to this point, for Snowden, it’s working.

Update, 11:20 a.m.: Vladimir Putin confirmed today that Snowden is still sitting around the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, but “was free to leave and should do so as soon as possible.” He also noted “that Russia doesn’t have an extradition agreement with the U.S. and thus wouldn’t meet the U.S. request” to extradite Snowden, according to the AP.

Russia: Edward Snowden ‘Never Crossed Border’