As the international mystery surrounding NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden entered its fourth day on Wednesday, speculation focused on how long the former CIA contractor will remain in Russia.
Hiding inside Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since having arrived from Hong Kong on Sunday, Snowden appears to be fast approaching the limit of his Russian transit visa. That document, required for passengers whose connecting flights depart more than 24 hours after their arrival, is valid for only three days.
President Vladimir Putin yesterday confirmed that Snowden’s transit visa allows him to stay in the airport to catch a connecting flight. He also slammed as “nonsense” American accusations that Russia is intentionally harboring a fugitive.
The anti-piracy group WikiLeaks, which has become Snowden’s chief ally in his flight from US prosecution, said on its Twitter page Tuesday that the United States risks trapping him in Russia by having canceled his passport last week.
“Cancelling Snowden's passport and bullying intermediary countries may keep Snowden permanently in Russia,” it said. “Not the brightest bunch at State.”
An Aeroflot Airline representative added to the suspicion by telling Reuters on Wednesday that Snowden was not checked into any flights in the coming days.
However, a Russian border-guard official told the state news agency RIA Novosti that Snowden could theoretically leave Russia despite visa problems and face a fine of only about $30.
On Wednesday, WikiLeaks claimed that Snowden had not been “debriefed” by the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s secret service. Putin also said the FSB has not made contact with him.
The group said its representative, Sarah Harrison, was accompanying Snowden “at all times.”
Nevertheless, the longer Snowden remains in Russia, the more observers speculate the FSB has attempted to make contact with the whistleblower.
Snowden has managed to evade scores of other would-be interviewers — journalists who have flocked to the airport in recent days — despite some Russian press reports that he checked out of his capsule hotel there.
Meanwhile, Ecuador, which said it would consider Snowden’s request for asylum, asked the United States on Wednesday to send it a written explanation of its position.
"The legal basis for each individual case must be rigorously established, in accordance with our national constitution and the applicable national and international legal framework," the statement said, according to Reuters. “This legal process takes human rights obligations into consideration as well.”
The statement added that Ecuador would review the request “responsibly.”
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Public officials in Russia have continued to voice their support for Snowden, who has been championed by many there as a defender of free speech.
Some, such as Alexander Brod, a member of the presidential council for human rights, urged Moscow to stand tougher behind him.
“I think it’s worthwhile for Russian officials to think about this man’s rights, not least because questions over human rights are often raised in Russia,” he told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.