NAANTALI, Finland (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden was still in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, was free to leave and should do so as soon as possible.
Putin told a news conference during a visit to Finland that he hoped the affair would not affect relations with Washington, which wants Russia to send him to the United States, but indicated Moscow would not hand him over.
“We can only hand over foreign citizens to countries with which we have an appropriate international agreement on the extradition of criminals,” Putin said, adding that Snowden has committed no crime in Russia.
He dismissed U.S. accusations against Moscow over the case as “ravings and rubbish”, saying that Russian security agencies had not worked with Snowden but added that he hoped the affair would not hurt relations with the United States.
Snowden, charged with disclosing secret U.S. surveillance programs, arrived at the Moscow airport on Sunday from Hong Kong. The U.S. State Department said diplomats and Justice Department officials were talking to Russia, suggesting they sought a deal to secure his return to face espionage charges.
“Mr. Snowden is a free person,” Putin said of the 30-year-old American, who is being aided by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks and has asked Ecuador for political asylum. “The sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it would be for us and for himself.”
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Steve Gutterman